- Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Staff Writer
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After a soul-searching regular season, Chris Bosh came up huge in Game 1.
MIAMI -- If Dwyane Wade was the closer, then Chris Bosh pitched eight brilliant innings as the starter.
In his first playoff game since 2007-08, Bosh led all scorers with 25 points while also pulling down 12 rebounds during the Heat’s 97-89 Game 1 victory. After the game, LeBron James lauded Bosh’s contributions on the court.
“[Bosh] is the most important player on our team,” James said. “When he plays aggressive, shoots the ball well and rebounds, we’re a very, very good team. He showed up today. He brought it.”
Ahead of the playoffs, Bosh was shadowed by doubt, as many in the public questioned whether the former Toronto Raptor could stand up to the pressures of postseason ball now that he has a target on his back. Judging from Saturday’s performance, Bosh is not wasting any time to prove the doubters wrong.
“You know he’s going to get shots, but him having 25 [points] and 12 [rebounds] is awesome,” Wade said. “There’s going to be some games when he’s going to lead the way for us. He did a great job today mixing it up.”
In several instances on Saturday, Bosh called for the ball in the post with Sixers power forward Elton Brand on his back. That would not have happened two months ago.
Back in early March, Bosh was mired in a midseason swoon. He settled for perimeter jumpers and rarely attacked the rim with any consistency, playing right into the defense’s hands. After venting to the media following a loss to the Blazers -- the team’s fifth defeat in as many games -- Bosh flipped a switch and instantly showed more aggression, both on the block and in the pick-and-roll. And it’s no surprise that the Heat’s late season surge coincided with Bosh’s shift into attack mode.
“Usually when I’m attacking, good things happen for me and for the team,” Bosh said.
The Heat are happy to see him carry that aggression into the playoffs. Bosh put the ball on the floor and drew contact like he had something to prove. He finished the game with 11 free throw attempts, just four shy of the Sixers’ entire team total on Saturday. His inside-out game was in full force on Saturday. When Brand tried to push Bosh off the block, Bosh responded by unleashing his midrange jumper. On the day, Bosh nailed four of his seven tries on long 2s.
When Brand couldn’t stop him consistently, 76ers coach Doug Collins sent the hyperactive Thaddeus Young to go guard him. Bosh beat him too.
“[Bosh] is definitely a tough guard,” Young said after the game. “He’s a 20-plus point scorer and an All-Star. It’s going to be hard each and every night going up against a guy like that. He plays so well off the ball with LeBron and Wade.”
This is where the Heat’s hard-earned chemistry emerges. After setting high screens for Wade or LeBron, Bosh will immediately dive to the basket calling for the ball. James routinely hits Bosh with a pocket pass as he rolls to the rim, a transaction that looked painfully forced in the beginning of the year.
Other times, Bosh will flash to the ball at the top of the key at the exact moment James needs a trigger and Bosh hits that jump shot with regularity. When Bosh is active, the Heat look like a fluid basketball team.
But perhaps Bosh’s biggest contribution on Saturday came on the boards. In his first season in a Heat uniform, Bosh posted the worst campaign of his career on the offensive glass, collecting just 6.4 percent of available offensive rebounds. But on Saturday, Bosh did his best Zydrunas Ilgauskas impression by sneaking underneath and providing some much-needed putbacks when the Heat found themselves in a scoring drought.
It was assumed that Wade and LeBron James would lead this team to victory in the playoffs, but Bosh provided the team’s backbone in Saturday's win. In a game during which James and Wade combined to shoot 10-for-27 from the field, the Heat depended on Bosh to come up big. Despite the lack of playoff experience, Bosh said he was ready to take on the challenge.
“I practice all the time,” Bosh said. “I prepare myself for those moments.”