In the middle of Saturday night, with adrenalin still flowing hours after the Heat’s Game 3 victory over the Pacers, Dwyane Wade interrupted Chris Bosh’s dinner to give his teammate some comic relief.
Bosh had stumbled through another subpar performance in the Eastern Conference finals. He wasn’t playing like a nine-time All-Star, or looking like a member of the Big 3.
So Wade took it upon himself to buck up Bosh with some mind-cleansing laughter when they met at a Miami restaurant.
The therapy must have worked because Bosh was his old self Monday in Miami’s 102-90 demoralization of Indiana. The Heat won its third in a row to erect a 3-1 wall that the Pacers will not be able to scale unless something dire happens to the defending champions.
Miami appears to be accelerating, and the team hasn’t even hit on all cylinders yet. One more victory and it’s on to a fourth consecutive NBA Finals.
Compare the Heat to a five-course meal, and it’s clear the entrée is still in the oven. There is much more to savor if Miami truly hits its peak.
What Bosh demonstrated before the white-garbed home fans was that someone always provides for the Heat. Someone always pops off the roster in bold face: MY TURN. Just when the opposition thinks it has a handle, along comes a player to supplement or take up slack. Maybe it’s Ray Allen raining three-pointers. Maybe it’s Norris Cole sowing havoc. Maybe it’s a timely rebound by Udonis Haslem or Shane Battier absorbing a charge.
On Memorial Day night, it was Bosh, breaking out of his slump and breaking a maddening trend by giving the Heat the bolt out of the blocks it sought.
“I felt that was going to happen,” LeBron James said. “I told him he was going to have a great game, and we got off to a fast start because of him.”
Bosh set the tone by scoring the Heat’s first eight points on 3-for-3 shooting. He nailed a 17-foot jump shot 18 seconds into the game, then swished two consecutive three-pointers within 36 seconds of each other. The Heat never looked back, and Indiana never got on track.
Bosh finished with 25 points on 7-of-12 shooting, with six rebounds, a block and eight free throws. He had been averaging nine points on 36 percent accuracy. In four Eastern Conference finals games against Indiana last season, Bosh scored seven, seven, nine and five points. He not only seems to have a mental block against the Pacers but a matchup block because of the size and muscle of their lineup. Bosh rose to the occasion at an opportune moment because Chris Andersen was out with a bruised left thigh.
Another measure of the Heat’s championship trust in each other was illustrated by the way they pulled Bosh out of his detachment and invited him to get involved. They fed him the ball early. In the third quarter, James bounced him a nifty one-handed pass in the lane. Bosh was fouled by Ian Mahinmi, then scored his 19th and 20th points at the line.
“That’s nice to see when your brothers want you to be aggressive and look for opportunities,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Those four other guys were trying to create an action for him and get some air space.”
Spoelstra was tired of recent Bosh bashing. He consistently calls Bosh the key to the entire Heat blueprint. He constantly refers to Bosh as the most important chess piece. Bosh is the prototypical glue player, but often taken for granted.
“I hate the story lines of the last few days because Chris has to do a lot of those things that people don’t understand for our game to work,” Spoelstra said. “He impacts the game in so many winning ways that the average eye doesn’t necessarily see.”
Bosh was irked, too. One of the more thoughtful guys in the NBA, he has to get beyond the simplistic basketball observers who are “used to playing video games and everybody gets 30 and you still win the game,” he said. “I always touch back with, ‘Hey, if I score 20 and we take an L, is that better?’ ”
Bosh said he turned himself around by “going back to basics.”
“I kind of put the cerebral stuff to bed,” he said. “Mental crisis? That’s for the weak-minded, my friend.
“I felt I could give more to the team. We got into them and were able to dictate the tempo. I wanted to be aggressive. Sometimes it’s difficult in my situation to do that.”
James was at his attacking, chest-thumping best with 32 points, and Wade was solid if not spectacular with 15.
Both knew that Bosh had to get going, and would.
“He’s too big a piece of the puzzle,” James said prior to the game.
Bosh withstood the criticism and reasserted himself, showing his touch, rolling inside, dunking over Luis Scola, exploiting Mahinmi and Roy Hibbert. On defense he helped render Indiana’s bigs ineffective and disrupted their pick-and-roll offense.
“I love it, pecking away,” Spoelstra said as the Heat cruised. “Whatever you guys are feeling now, the feeling works.”