The Carreras to LeBron James’ Pavarotti and Dwyane Wade’s Domingo, 6-11 Heat forward Chris Bosh eventually will be the tallest Hall of Famer trapped in two teammates’ shadows.
But Bosh continues to prove that often the difference between championship greatness and pre-championship dismissal isn’t a team’s No. 1 guy. It’s the No. 2 guy or the No. 3 guy.
Michael Jordan never won anything without Scottie Pippen and the Bulls were at their best with Jordan, Pippen and Dennis Rodman from 1995 to ’98. One ace starter can get you a Cy Young Award, three of a kind can get you a World Series. In the NHL, when Calgary wanted to get past Edmonton during Edmonton’s Wayne Gretzky days, Calgary concentrated their defense on stopping No. 2 center Mark Messier.
So it is with the Heat, which rarely loses as it is. But when Bosh plays well, when he’s altering shots, pulling down rebounds and in the mood that sees him flashing his black mouthpiece in roars of engagement, the Heat morphs from metaphorical giant to juggernaut.
No matter the NBA Finals opponent — and it turns out it will be a rematch with the Spurs — the extent of Bosh’s omnipresence could dictate the series. See the last three games of the Eastern Conference finals when Bosh came alive Frampton-style.
After two years of difficulty with Indiana when Bosh was injured, coming off injury or just plain ineffective, the Heat crushed the Pacers in Games 4 and 6 as Bosh had 25 points in each and got to the free-throw line a combined 16 times.
All this forced Pacers center Roy Hibbert away from his sentry post around the rim, thus opening the lanes for the Heat slashers. Inevitably, this leads to late defensive rotations and fouls on Indiana’s other inside muscle, power forward David West (fouled out of Game 6).
It took possibly the worst playoff game of James’ career for the Heat to blow an 11-point lead and lose Game 5, when Bosh had 10 rebounds, two steals, a block and 20 points.
Yet when Bosh missed a potential game-winning three-point attempt, the discussion that involved him after the game centered not on his overall performance but rather why James chose to set up Bosh instead of going for a game-tying layup.
(Ironically, that James-to-Bosh feed hearkened back to the first team to regularly eschew a tying two-pointer to go for three and the win: the ABA-era Indiana Pacers.)
“I just wanted to play good basketball,” Bosh said Friday after Game 6. “It was nothing that I told myself. I didn’t have to hype myself up. It was just a lot of different people from my family, inside my circle and our coaching staff and players that gave me inspiration. They’ve continued to believe in me, no matter what happens.
“That really fueled me a lot, and I really didn’t want to let them down,” Bosh continued. “So, I wanted to kind of elevate my game, play a lot better and really just have a particular focus in order to get that job done.”
On Friday, instead of being bullied by Hibbert’s advantage of three inches and 55 pounds, Bosh played textbook defense that left Hibbert looking unplugged. Bosh said the Heat changed its coverage, more “ball-you-basket” style than previous years against Hibbert.
On Hibbert’s first touch, Bosh bumped bodies and wouldn’t let Hibbert turn cleanly. Bosh forced a dish-off to Paul George, then slapped the rebound from Hibbert off George’s miss. He drew an offensive rebound when he let (or self-helped) a Hibbert push send him into to the floor.
Next, Hibbert rolled into the lane for a hook. Clank.
“Everyone wanted to talk about the success of last year and I really took the personal challenge to do a better job,” Bosh said, “especially when Bird [Chris Andersen] went down a little bit and wasn’t able to go. I knew I was back at the full-time five position.
“So, I didn’t want him dominating to be a part of the conversation.”
It wasn’t. By the second quarter Friday, Bosh was gliding through the Pacers for dunks and lay-ins that left Hibbert gesturing with palms up as if wondering what he’s supposed to do about it.