A year ago, while the Heat was battling the Indiana Pacers, Chris Bosh was instead battling pain and frustration, pushing through an abdominal injury that sidelined him for nine playoff games before a Game 5 return in the Eastern Conference finals.
Not only was walking and simply getting up from a chair enormously uncomfortable initially, but he also was so angry about the Game 1 injury against Indiana that “I felt like destroying the whole [locker room]. I had so much rage.”
These playoffs have been a joyride, by comparison.
Through two rounds, Bosh has been not only ambulatory, but impactful, disruptive defensively and a pain to guard for opponents. He’s swishing three-pointers at a percentage that ranked fourth among players who entered Saturday still alive in the postseason.
The man who once wanted no part of playing center continues to embrace it and thrive — outplaying Chicago’s Joakim Noah, ranking among the playoff leaders in blocked shots, and raising his rebounding numbers from the regular season, when he averaged a career-low 6.8.
All the while, he causes fits for opposing teams by drawing centers out to the perimeter, then sinking silky jumpers over their outstretched arms.
“He is our most important player for a reason,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’ve said that for three seasons. He allows everything to work on both ends of the court.”
Noah is the more intimidating presence at the rim, but it was Bosh who had nearly three times as many blocks as Noah (11 to 4) in the Heat-Bulls Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Their rebounding numbers were close: 9.3 for Noah, 8.6 for Bosh. And Bosh predictably outscored Noah, 13.6 points per game to 9.8.
More challenges now await: Indiana’s Roy Hibbert in the Eastern Conference finals, and possibly Memphis’ Marc Gasol in the NBA Finals.
“No matter who wins, Indiana or New York, the Eastern Conference finals is going to be a very tough series,” Bosh said last week. “We’re up for the challenge.”
Bosh said this is the best he has played defensively in his life, a byproduct of the Heat culture and “not wanting to let teammates down.”
“He’s always been very heady [defensively],” Spoelstra said. “When we recruited him hard, most of our film study was from USA Basketball. Seeing him covering ground and seeing him protecting the rim, we thought we had a perfect fit with our culture and our defensive system.”
Bosh has repeatedly reinvented himself on this team, first agreeing to play center instead of power forward, then taking his game away from the basket and posting up far less than in the past.
“Everybody says they want to win, but it’s all about what they’re willing to sacrifice,” Bosh said. “My situation is totally different. I rarely get play calls [now]. Before, I was getting about 20 touches a game, just off play calls.
“Just having to master a different role and a different situation has been extremely difficult for me. I’ve kind of embraced that challenge. It continues to challenge me. I try to rise to the top no matter what I do.”
Bosh said “even this year,” his role “changed again with the addition of Ray Allen.” He said he is “always searching” for ways he “can be effective I don’t think I’ll ever get comfortable until I’m on vacation.”
By pulling his game away from the basket on offense, Bosh has improved the Heat’s spacing.
And his three-point shooting has improved dramatically from the regular season. Bosh has drained 7 of 15 attempts in the playoffs, after making 21 of 74 during the season.
“I know it’s unorthodox for people to really see what type of player I am and what they needed me to be here,” he said. “You see a big and they want to put you in a box. A guy might outweigh you by 50 or 60 pounds and you still have to back him down and be effective.
“If the team doesn’t need me to do that, I’m not going to waste my time trying to bang [against] dudes and shoot turnaround jumpers and hook shots all night. It’s going to be there sometimes, but I’m just going to be all over the court. And because of that I think I’ve become a much better player.”
His biggest sacrifice, besides money?
“Giving up shots,” he said. “That’s one thing I’ve always wanted was to be where LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are. That’s always been a dream of mine.
“I just have to put it on the backseat for the better of the team.”
He was asked, during a quiet moment, how many times he has said to himself: I made the right decision to come here.
“All the time,” he said. “I look at how my life has changed for the better, how this community has embraced me. And getting a taste of great basketball is a great thing.”
Though Bosh was an All-Star five times in Toronto (and all three seasons in Miami), he said he’s convinced he wouldn’t be as good a player if he hadn’t signed here.
“To truly be a really good player, the things you do well, you have to do them in the playoffs during crunch-time situations, when it’s the toughest,” he said.
And no Heat player was better in the clutch this season than Bosh. In the final five minutes of games with a margin of five points or fewer, Bosh shot 77 percent from the field (24 for 31).
The ESPN magazine show E:60 ran a profile on Bosh last week in which he said some people perceive him as being “stuck up” because he’s “quiet and reserved.”
But “the real Chris,” according to his pregnant wife Adrienne, “is a goofball” and “totally” a geek who was a National Honor Society member at Lincoln High in Dallas and enrolled at Georgia Tech with visions of becoming an engineer.
“Chris has never been OK with mediocre,” his wife told ESPN.
And his game has been nothing of the sort this postseason.