Going into the Celtics-Heat series, conventional wisdom classified the Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Bosh matchup, in the parlance of political handicapping, as "Lean Garnett."
Garnett's championship pedigree and defensive résumé measured against Bosh's playoff inexperience and reputation among some as a high-post wallflower lent credence to the idea that the Celtics could render Bosh a non-factor in the series.
After two games, Garnett and Bosh are deadlocked in a pitchers' duel. Garnett got his jumper going in the third quarter of Game 2, but apart from that, he's been a marginal offensive player. Much of the chatter has attributed Garnett's struggles to old legs, exhaustion, maybe even the residual effects of a calf injury he suffered around New Year's.
But Bosh's ineffectiveness? Well, that must be Garnett's voice in his head, Garnett's physicality, and his unwillingness to bite on Bosh's patented shot-fake.
Couper Moorhead of Heat.com describes the dynamic:
There’s an interesting phenomenon at play here. Because Bosh is shooting 4-of-12 on mid-range jumpers in this series, because he was swatted by Kevin Garnett on a late fourth-quarter block in Game 1, because the Celtics are already pushing your mind in the direction by emphasizing early Garnett-on-Bosh offense in the post, the assumption can be that that Garnett is beating himself, that the edge is his. At least through two games, it’s mythos over results.
Once again, our preconceptions are trumped by numbers and film both.
In the 63 minutes Garnett and Bosh have shared on the court, Garnett is shooting 36 percent with an offensive rating of 97.66 (points per 100 possessions). When Bosh is on the floor, Garnett is scoring four points in the paint per game with a PER of 7.78 despite a higher usage rate – using 16.8 percent of possessions to 15.4 percent when Bosh is in. Garnett is shooting 2-of-5 in the paint on non-point blank shots and, with the help of Miami’s help rotations, 5-of-18 from the mid-range, including post-up looks.
Bosh is outrebounding his opponent, 23-14. And Garnett hasn’t taken a single free-throw.
Moorhead rightly points out that, with only two games of data, there's likely a lot of noise in the numbers. If you prefer an eye test, check out the video, which includes 10 possessions during which Bosh has defended Garnett through two games:
Video that shows us two things: that Bosh is playing feet-first defense, keeping his arms straight up in the post and forcing Garnett to shoot over the top, and that he isn’t sacrificing his other defensive duties, hedging on pick-and-rolls before recovering as Garnett spots-up. Not to mention the two alley-oops from Rondo which Bosh has sniffed out.
You could make a similar video of Bosh's work as the big man in the Heat's pick-and-roll coverage, where Bosh has been superb. Whether he's corralling Rondo or jumping out on his right shoulder, then sprinting back to paint, Bosh has applied mechanical precision covering ground on the defensive end.
Joel Anthony has rightly received much of the credit for the Heat's strong defense inside. While Anthony has been nothing short of exceptional, Bosh's contributions in the back line rotations, split-second help decisions and pick-and-roll coverage up front have been essential to the Heat's overall defensive effort.
The next time the Celtics run a high screen for Rondo with Garnett, watch Bosh instead of the ball. Watch how he tries to push Rondo toward the sideline, shades Garnett (at least until he's certain Anthony or Ilgauskas has picked him up), then recognizes the instant he needs to start his recovery.
Bosh's work here has been solid, just as it has been wrestling with Garnett on the block and altering shots as a help defender. It might not be the primary reason the Heat lead 2-0 in this series, but it's an ancillary one.