Bosh missed almost all of the Indiana playoff series last season because of a pulled abdominal muscle, and Miami sorely missed his ability to stretch Indiana’s interior defense and open avenues for James and Dwyane Wade.
He calls himself and Hibbert the X factors for their teams. In order for Miami to get cleanly through this series, and onward to an NBA Finals matchup against formidable centers on either the Spurs or Grizzlies, Bosh has to be more than an X factor. He must be a fully integrated member of the Big Three, not the member derisively marginalized as part of the Big 2-1/2 in previous seasons. He is the underrated cog that makes the Heat click.
“I want to put something on Hibbert’s mind,” Bosh said. “If he’s in the paint, altering shots, you’re probably not going to be in the position you want to be in. I want to take him a couple steps out and make him think about it.”
Bosh had his moments. But Hibbert logged a complete game with 19 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. His partner down low, David West, damaged the Heat severely with 26 points, mostly on midrange jumpers.
Chris “Birdman” Andersen provided more punch off the bench than Bosh did as a starter. Andersen made seven of seven shots, collected five rebounds and smacked three blocks. He disrupted shots and flustered Hibbert. His aggression was a bigger asset than Bosh’s outside shooting prowess because his defense catalyzed the Heat’s offense.
When Bosh returned, two minutes to go, he backed into Hibbert, then wheeled around him for a left-handed hook and a four-point lead. Hibbert responded by scoring on the other end, and after West found a clear path to the basket, the score was tied with 50.4 seconds left. Miami’s subsequent lead evaporated when George sank a long, off-balance three-pointer over James to send the game into overtime.
It was too close, much too close, especially for a home game in which the Heat should have dictated an attacking tone and set a furious pace.
Bosh let out one of his primal screams as James sealed the victory and the crowd exhaled in relief. Had Hibbert been on the floor, who knows what might have transpired? He was the X factor. Bosh was, too. A big question mark won’t be enough if the Heat is to reach its final destination.