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Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Chris Bosh, NBA Finals X factor?

By Ethan Sherwood Strauss

Chris Bosh just posted averages of 11 points, 4.3 rebounds and 37 percent shooting in his last series. Can I sell you on him as Finals X factor?

It is difficult to talk up Bosh's value right after an Eastern Conference finals in which he played like a mediocre guard. Fortunately for Bosh, he's about to start fresh and play against a San Antonio Spurs team he's thrived against ever since he arrived in Miami.

The sample size is small -- five games total -- but the results over that span were impressive, and it's easy to see how and why they could be replicated in these Finals. Bosh averaged 23.6 points on 60.5 percent shooting against San Antonio over the past three seasons. In his worst shooting performance, the lanky lefty went 5-for-9 to go along with nine free throw attempts, 17 points, and 14 rebounds. Chalk it up to luck, but Bosh's success against San Antonio makes sense given what the Spurs do and what Bosh does.

When I mull Bosh and the Spurs, I'm reminded of a certain internationally known martial art. The essence of the jiu-jitsu fighting technique is to turn a foe's use of force against himself. While Bosh is hardly a martial artist, he's adept at using San Antonio's tendencies, tendencies that have helped forge an elite defense, against the Spurs.

For instance: San Antonio is the kind of savvy defense that cedes the less-desirable long 2-point shot, and Bosh is the kind of peculiar player who regularly nets such shots. In a system designed to trick other teams into hoisting bad attempts, Bosh happily plays a trick on the trick.

Per the NBA's media stats site, Gregg Popovich's team gives up the second-most midrange shots in basketball. Unlike the Indiana Pacers, who force opponents into taking the most midrange tries leaguewide, the Spurs allow their foes to get more space, and it results in relatively better shooting percentages from long 2-point range. This season, Spurs opponents are netting a torrid 47 percent from the right elbow extended, a region from which Bosh converted 53.8 percent of his jumpers this season. Bosh actually shoots better from the right elbow on average than San Antonio's opponents shoot within five feet of the rim.

The second aspect of Bosh's "jiu-jitsu" looks a little bit like actual jiu-jitsu. When the ancient Tim Duncan closes out hard, Bosh is happy to deliver that shot-fake flinch and take off towards the bucket as though asked by a wind gust. Suddenly, the force of Duncan's sprint has carried him out of the picture, and force of Bosh's drive is felt at the rim.

Though still fantastic in the paint, Duncan struggles defensively as he moves away from the basket. We saw flashes of this in the Warriors-Spurs series, in which Stephen Curry -- never known for his drives -- was content to gallop past Duncan whenever he ventured out to the 3-point line on high pick-and-rolls. According to Couper Moorhead of HEAT.com, Bosh has averaged 21 points per 36 minutes with Duncan on the floor over these past three seasons. Small sample size, yes, but video of these games certainly showed Bosh driving around Duncan with ease.

A credible perimeter-shooting threat isn't exactly fun for a 37-year-old big man to handle, especially when that threat can streak rim-ward in an instant. Though Tiago Splitter is younger and quicker, he's not especially well-suited for this task, either.

The Spurs have used Matt Bonner on Bosh on occasion, but Bosh has the ability to float jumpers over Bonner like the "Red Mamba" has a snake's standing reach.

If Bosh is healthy, this is his series to shine. He hasn't looked explosive since spraining his ankle last series, but a few days of rest can do wonders for the healing process. If Bosh is indeed the same player he was a month ago, he's a problem for the Spurs. This is especially true when LeBron James plays the 4, further stretching the floor. There isn't a quick Bosh-stopper available when Kawhi Leonard is occupied on James.

The aforementioned San Antonio bigs aren't known for their ability to defend in space, even if San Antonio has expertly manipulated space in forming their stout defense. This is partially why these Spurs bigs looked so comfortable against the Memphis Grizzlies and so uncomfortable in the first couple games of the Warriors series. Golden State demanded that Duncan & Co. play above the arc, while the Grizzlies demanded that their opponents defend below the free throw line. The latter style is better for older legs. If Bosh's are still functional, he can take advantage.