If his side wasn’t hurting so badly, Chris Bosh would have destroyed the Heat’s locker room out of frustration the night his abdominal muscle decided to give out.
Emotionally, Bosh said he “went into a rage” after being injured in Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers in the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals. Physically, he needed assistance to stand up from a chair.
On Wednesday, Bosh gets another chance to prove himself against center Roy Hibbert and the Pacers when the Heat begins its best-of-7 series with Indiana in the Eastern Conference finals. The Heat’s big man wouldn’t want to be playing anyone else for a chance to reach The Finals.
“I’m going to have to have a big match up with Roy,” Bosh said. “I feel he is the X factor for them. I’m the X factor for this team. This is going to be, I think, the matchup that really turns the series.”
Off the court, Bosh has been talking about his matchup against Hibbert for days — one of the best offensive centers in the game versus one of the best interior defenders.
“I was talking with my family about it the other night,” Bosh said. “To be able to have a chance to compete against [Indiana]. I didn’t get the chance last time. I felt last time I really could have made an imprint on the series, and it’s funny how things come back around. I’m going to be get another shot.”
Bosh unabashedly considers himself the X factor in the series, but there are other dynamics to the Heat’s frontcourt that make this series against Indiana completely different than the one the Heat struggled through last year to win in six games. In addition to Bosh, the Heat features Chris “Birdman” Andersen coming off the bench, Udonis Haslem is an entrenched starter, and Shane Battier, who started against the Pacers in 2012, is back in a reserve role where he can provide a strategic offensive mismatch against Indiana’s big men — David West, in particular.
Birdman, Battier, and Bosh are the Heat’s “Killer B’s” against the Pacers’ blue-collar approach.
“Our bigs have to be big in this series,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Andersen provides the Heat a second physical presence inside beyond Haslem, who was suspended for a game in the 2012 series after a flagrant foul against Tyler Hansbrough. Hard fouls and intense defense will be a part of this series as well, but Andersen doesn’t envision the Eastern Conference finals turning ugly.
“I don’t see it going that route,” Andersen said. “I see them being competitive just like we are — just a matter of coming out and playing our style; don’t let them have us play to their style.”
And that’s where Bosh comes in.
He had 13 points and five rebounds in less than 16 minutes of Game 1 of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals before he went down with his injury. Losing Bosh not only forced Spoelstra to completely retool the Heat’s rotations mid-series, but also diminished the Heat’s tactical advantage against the Pacers’ formidable interior defenders. With Bosh now healthy, the Heat can return to its preferred strategy of stretching the floor to create easier driving lanes for Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. The end game, of course, is pulling Hibbert, one of the best rim-protectors in the league, out of the paint.
“We missed [Bosh] last year, and we’re happy he’s healthy right now,” Battier said. “He stretches the floor, especially when Hibbert guards him. It makes Hibbert make some real decisions, and obviously a great scoring punch for us.”
In other words, Bosh doesn’t plan on posting up against Hibbert often. Using Bosh inside offensively against Indiana would mitigate his skills and play into the Pacers’ game plan.
“When have you seen me get in there and bang?” Bosh asked a reporter rhetorically when questioned about his approach to interior offense in the upcoming series. “I’m going to bang enough on the defensive end. That’s going to be my job as far as banging is concerned.
“On offense, when naturally we space the floor, we will not be running any actions or any drops for me against Hibbert. You can pretty much write that down.”
Defensively, Bosh played well against Bulls center Joakim Noah last week in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Bosh averaged 8.6 rebounds per game in the second-round series and delivered a monstrous performance (20 points and 19 rebounds) in Game 3. Hibbert offers another opportunity for Bosh to show off his improved defensive game. Hibbert is averaging 9.6 rebounds per game in the 2013 playoffs and averaged a double-double (13.3 points and 10.3 rebounds) against the Knicks in the second round.
“We saw with New York that if you let him be a force on the boards, catch it wherever you want to, he’s going to make you pay,” Bosh said. “So, it’s my job to make it as tough as possible on him, try to contain him down low and we’ll see how we match up.”