MIAMI -- Before the Miami Heat try to take a 2-0 series lead Friday in the Eastern Conference finals against the Indiana Pacers, Chris Bosh had a confession to make about the closing seconds of his team's overtime win in the opener.
He was never an option.
Not even close. At least not on the final play.
When LeBron James caught the inbound pass with 2.2 seconds left and drove for the buzzer-beater layup that downed the Pacers 103-102 in Game 1 on Wednesday, Bosh wasn't the Heat's second, third or fourth go-to player.
In essence, he was the getaway guy.
“I had to flare to the weak side,” Bosh said of moving as far away from the ball as possible at the most pivotal point in the game. “If the lob was there, maybe [I'd get it]. But I knew it wasn't going to be there. I was never an option. When we drew up the play, we knew where it was going.”
Pacers coach Frank Vogel still didn't come right out and admit it Thursday. But it was Bosh -- more than James -- that he feared on that last play in Game 1. So psyched out by the threat of Bosh's versatility, Vogel kept shot-blocking center Roy Hibbert on the bench in a move that cleared the path for Miami's victory. It was a smart gamble that backfired.
And as the Heat and Pacers make adjustments entering Game 2, Bosh will continue settling into his role as the most important chess piece in a clash of strategies that could ultimately determine the outcome of this series.
Don't classify Bosh as a glorified decoy. It doesn't do him justice. He's a dominating dilemma. If Game 1 proved nothing else, it confirmed that just the potential of Bosh's ability to stretch the floor with his shooting and quickness at center is every bit as vital as his actual execution.
In this series, that probably won't allow Bosh to be a late-game hero like James. And he also likely won't have the touches to provide all of those highlights like Paul George.
But Bosh will be the biggest headache to deal with in what promises to be a remarkably hard-fought series. No player will do more to impact these next few games without constantly having the basketball in his hands than Bosh.
“He's the most important player for us, has been for three years,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Thursday of Bosh, who scored just two points in the first half and got his first rebound midway through the fourth quarter in Wednesday's game.
Added Spoelstra, “[Bosh] just makes it all work, and everything works better when he's on the court. We force easier triggers when he's involved. And that's either when he's involved or when he's on the other side with his spacing. That's what makes him so unique. One way or another, he helps our attack.”
The Pacers insist they'll avoid the ambush moving forward. Asked if his team spent too much time worrying about the mismatch Bosh creates on the court, George said the Pacers would be better off sticking with their identity.
“We just have to stay consistent in what we do,” George said after Indiana's practice Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena. “We've got to honor and respect what Chris Bosh can do, but just stay true to what we do.”
Just one game into the series, the Bosh dilemma has the Pacers already dealing with a bit of an identity crisis. During his pregame media session about an hour before the start of Game 1, Vogel said his team hasn't -- and wouldn't -- adjust its style to counter an opponent's adjustments.
A few hours later, the message was different. Vogel justified his last-second lineup shuffle by pointing the pick-your-poison proposition presented by Bosh's presence.
“That's the dilemma they present when they have Chris Bosh at the [center] spot and his ability to space the floor,” Vogel said. “Obviously, with the way it worked out, it would have been better to have Roy in the game. But you don't know. If that happens, maybe Bosh is making the jump shot, and we're all talking about that [instead].”
Causing psychological conundrums isn't a new role for Bosh. But it's one that he's gradually embracing even as it constantly evolves from one playoff series to the next.
During the Heat's first-round series sweep against Milwaukee, Bosh was matched up with equally nimble and athletic center Larry Sanders. So the challenge then was for Bosh to be a defensive anchor and play closer to the rim. He had 16 points and 14 rebounds in Game 3 against the Bucks and then blocked four shots in the series clincher.
Against Chicago in the next round, Bosh was charged with matching the energy and relentless play of Joakim Noah. He then delivered 20 points and a career-high 19 rebounds in Game 3 and another four-block performance in Game 4 before the Heat closed out the Bulls in five games.
But in this round, as he faces the 7-foot-2 Hibbert and rugged power forward David West, Bosh knows his production might be determined more by his technique than his touches.
“I'm just doing my best to stretch these guys out,” Bosh said. “[Hibbert] is one of the best defenders as a big in the league. If you just give him one option, he's probably going to dominate. We want to give him a bunch of different looks, put him in a bunch of different positions where he has to make quick decisions. If you give him something else to think about, it changes the dynamic a little bit.”
Bosh didn't have to bother baiting Hibbert with the game on the line Wednesday. Vogel made sure of it. But that might not be the case the rest of the series. After expressing his frustrations about sitting out the final seconds of Game 1, Hibbert said Thursday he met with Vogel and the two have a mutual understanding of his role in the matchup.
“Our size is our strength,” Hibbert said of coping with the Bosh strategy. “But at the same time, I'm not the quickest guy out there on the perimeter. We have a plan for it. And if I'm on Bosh, I have to do a good job of moving my feet.”
Meanwhile, Bosh will counter by forcing the Pacers' big men into what he describes as “unorthodox positions” in order to disrupt their comfort zone. Bosh knows it's not necessarily a glamorous job. It might not come with normal perks like points, rebounds or other statistical measures.
But there are fringe benefits that come with keeping the Pacers on the edge.
“I would like to think the threat of my impact is pretty strong,” Bosh said. “I've had to learn that since coming here, how to be a more well-rounded player, how you can affect the game without many play calls. It's not easy. But I just hang in there. If I get their guys a couple of steps out of their areas and comfort zone, and LeBron and [Dwyane] Wade get in there and finish, then I've done my job.”