Every time Chris Bosh walks into AmericanAirlines Arena, he’s reminded of one thing: losing to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals on the Heat’s home court.
On Wednesday, a practice day for the Heat and Thunder, Bosh wasn’t thinking about how an NBA championship is just one victory away. He wasn’t thinking about how no team in the history of the league has lost a championship after leading 3-1 in the Finals. He wasn’t thinking about containing his emotions and celebrating prematurely.
Bosh was only thinking about pain.
Bosh, you might recall, was the player who crumpled to the floor in agony, tears pouring from his face, inside the corridor leading to the Heat’s locker room in the immediate moments after Miami lost to the Mavericks. The image was caught on camera and seared into the mind. Bosh doesn’t need to see a replay to remember the experience. He lived it, down on his knees a defeated man inside the passageway the Heat calls the “Hall of Champions.”
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“We think about that every day,” Bosh said. “I’m reminded every day I walk in here.”
The hallway is long and filled with images of the Heat’s 2006 title. On Thursday night, minutes before Game 5’s 9 p.m. tipoff, the Heat’s players will walk through that hall together and stop briefly before the door that leads to the court. They’ll gather in a huddle near the same spot Bosh collapsed, look each other in the eyes and remind themselves one last time of the pain.
The Heat lost it all on its home court last year. On Thursday, in the team’s final home game of the year, Bosh and the Heat can finally put that memory to rest.
“We know what’s at stake,” Bosh said. “We know this is the last home game no matter what happens, and we’re a good home team. Just to be able to have this opportunity, you can’t let it slip by.”
The Heat has won three games in a row against the Thunder, but the series feels much closer. Oklahoma City, favored to win the Finals before it started, lost those games by a total of 16 points. Over and over again, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has talked about how each game has been decided by a handful of possessions.
“This isn’t our first rodeo, so understanding and being the team on the other side when the team is one win away and understanding what type of fierce and energetic attitude that’s going to be brought by them, we can’t relax,” Heat co-captain Udonis Haslem said. “I’ve been on the other side. I know what they’re coming with. It’s going to be huge and it’s going to be all we can handle.”
‘Game 7 for us’
Wanting no part of traveling back to Oklahoma City, where the Thunder is 9-1 in the postseason, the Heat is approaching its final home game as if it were the final game of the series.
“Game 5 is a Game 7 for us,” LeBron James said. “It’s a must-win for them, but it’s a must-win for us, too. And as a leader of this team, I’ll approach it that way, and hopefully I won’t have to be dealing with cramps [Thursday] night.”
In line to win the series’ MVP Award, James was pushed to the point of physical exhaustion in Game 4. Reduced to his knees by debilitating leg cramps in the fourth quarter, James was carried off the court before returning to hit one of the most memorable shots his career, a three-pointer to give the Heat a three-point lead with less than three minutes remaining.
James was still store on Wednesday but said he “should be fine” by Thursday night.
“I feel a lot better than I did [Tuesday] night — that’s clear,” James said during his post-practice news conference at AmericanAirlines Arena. “I’m going to use [Wednesday] as an opportunity to continue to improve with my leg.
“And also with the game being basically at midnight [Thursday] night I have all day [Thursday], too, to prepare.”
James was joking about the time of the game, of course. By midnight, the game will be over and perhaps the series.
The “Hall of Champions” awaits.