Facing a resilient, resurgent opponent with championship pedigree, the Heat hopes a return home and a possible return of Chris Bosh can deliver a sorely needed boost.
The Heat is hopeful Bosh will be able to play in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday night, barring any red flags in his workouts in front of coach Erik Spoelstra. But Spoelstra cautioned Monday, “It’s premature to say he’ll definitively play.”
For the first time since Bosh sustained an abdominal strain on May 13, Spoelstra changed Bosh’s status from out “indefinitely” to “day-to-day,” — in the wake of an ESPN report that Bosh will play Tuesday (barring a setback) and a Sunday night Miami Herald report that Bosh might play in Game 5.
“He’s making significant progress,” Spoelstra said. “He had three good workouts in Boston. Each day will be a new evaluation. He’ll get a vote. Everybody will be involved in a decision …
“You always have to take players’ decisions with a grain of salt. He said he was ready 10 days ago. If he doesn’t play, it’s not a setback.”
During the workouts in Boston, Bosh was effective in lateral movements — a key to returning from this type of injury — and Spoelstra said Bosh’s “conditioning and comfort level” will play a role in the decision.
The Heat is 5-4 in the nine full playoff games that Bosh has missed, with Dwyane Wade shooting 55 percent with Bosh on the court and 45 percent otherwise. Since Bosh joined the Heat, Miami is 12-11 without him.
The Heat’s offense “has changed considerably with him out,” but Spoelstra will “gladly take the challenge” of readjusting to accommodate Bosh, because “we couldn’t win without him for two years and looked horrible without him. He was our most important player for a long period of time.”
Said Celtics coach Doc Rivers: “We’ve prepared every game like Bosh is going to play, and eventually he will. I know Kevin Garnett is going to try to post up whoever they throw out there. Chris is very talented, [but] I don’t think Kevin will be that concerned with whoever is there.”
Spoelstra would not say if Bosh will start in his first game back. Regardless, the Heat must find a way to get off to better starts. Wade must, too.
Miami trailed 39-26 in the second quarter of its Game 2 win and trailed 55-42 at halftime of its Game 3 loss. Boston led 21-6 with 5:14 left in the first quarter of Game 4 and 45-28 by early in the second quarter.
“They got everything they wanted and more in the first half,” LeBron James said. “We’ve got to come out with a sense of urgency. Last two games, they have come out and hit us hard.”
Wade said falling behind by so much early — and then needing to expend enormous energy to rally — “takes too much out of you.” He said the Celtics were “carving us up” in the first half. “Can’t nobody beat the Celtics when they have that many people being effective.”
Spoelstra tried to infuse energy Sunday by starting Joel Anthony in place of Ronny Turiaf. But that accomplished nothing, and Spoelstra opted for Udonis Haslem to start the third quarter.
“It’s been like that the last two years, guys in and out of the lineup,” James said. “At times, it’s difficult to work with that, but we’ve got to figure it out.”
But Haslem said “there’s nothing we can draw up that Coach can do about effort. We can’t go out there cruising. We can’t be cool. We can’t take our time. From start to finish, it’s got to be an all-out effort.”
As for Wade, his first halves in this series have mirrored the Heat’s. He shot 2 for 11 in an eight-point first half in Game 4, after shooting 1 for 6 in the first half of Game 2 and 3 for 9 in Game 3.
The contrast between his first- and second-half/overtime numbers in the series is stunning: 8 for 31 for 22 points before halftime, 24 for 39 for 61 points after halftime.
The Celtics have blanketed Wade with double-teams and swarming defense from Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling and others. Wade has attempted only five free throws in the past two games after getting to the line 17 times in the first two.
“We’ll continue to make adjustments to get him in places where he could attack,” Spoelstra said.
Wade is shooting 27 percent from 15 feet and beyond against Boston and 30 percent from that distance overall in postseason. During the regular season, Wade shot 37 percent from 16 to 23 feet and 26.8 percent on three-pointers.
“I got a lot of good looks, more than the last game,” Wade said.
He also struggled finishing closer to the basket Sunday, missing 6 of 9 shots in the paint.