Commentary

Bosh's distance-learning program

Originally Published: February 23, 2014
By Israel Gutierrez | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- You'd think with the winners of the past five MVP awards -- LeBron James (four) and Derrick Rose (one) -- sitting on their respective benches in tailored suits, there wouldn't be much of Sunday's Chicago Bulls-Miami Heat matchup that would be particularly jaw-dropping.

Interesting, yes. Greg Oden starting, that had some potential, but it ended in similar numbers (five points, five rebounds, 13 minutes) as his reserve stints have.

Encouraging, sure. Dwyane Wade with a near triple-double (23 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists) one game after a 24-point, 10-assist night in Oklahoma City might've settled some of the critics wondering about his health.

[+] EnlargeChris Bosh
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsChris Bosh stretched the floor by making 4 of 9 3-point attempts en route to 28 points.

But if it was mind-boggling you wanted, you needed to wait until after the game. You needed to check the stat sheet and let a few numbers smack you in the face.

For starters, there was the No. 9. That's how many 3-pointers one of the best "power" forwards in the league took.

Chris Bosh, whom Heat coach Erik Spoelstra says actually plays a "hybrid position," started the game by hitting his first two 3-pointers to open the scoring for Miami. And then he just kept launching, hitting another two of his final seven attempts.

It's not so much the idea of a big man taking and hitting a bunch of 3-pointers that's hard to wrap one's mind around. It's that these were coming from Bosh, who took a total of 60 3s in his first two full seasons in Miami.

This isn't Dirk Nowitzki or Kevin Love, who had established fairly early in their respective careers they were capable of hitting 3s. Bosh is a player who started to extend his range in the 10th year of his career because it was best for this Heat team. And he did it relatively quickly.

Spoelstra remembers the process of stretching Bosh's game beyond the 3-point line beginning after he was injured in Game 1 of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Indiana Pacers.

"Then from there, he started to ramp it up a little bit more," Spoelstra said. "Each year we've become a little more comfortable with him playing on the perimeter, but he's also not only reinvented himself after 10 years in the league, but for the necessity of this team. Because early on, we knew that would open up the door to a flood of criticism. What's he doing out there? What's a big guy doing shooting 3s.

"It's not the first big guy shooting 3s. And spacing is critical for us."

After last season, when he hit just 21-of-74 (28.4 percent) from distance, Bosh's comfort level has grown quickly. He's on pace to take exactly 100 more 3s than he did last season, and make 63. Bosh remembers discussing the extension of his range with Shane Battier before finally taking the plunge.

"I was kind of looking at our offense," Bosh said. "I was playing the four at the time, starting the game off with me and [Udonis Haslem]. Me and Shane were having conversations, and he just said, 'Man, take a step back. You can get more points per possession, help the team out.'"

It was something of a difficult transition for Bosh, who, unlike most "shooters," doesn't get over misses quickly.

He remembers thinking, "This is far. So far."

And in less than two seasons, he has become so comfortable from distance that he has trouble classifying exactly what kind of player he is.

"I'm a sharpshooter now -- kind of," he said. "I'm kind of in a gray area. I don't know what I am anymore. Just put me out there."

Put him out there against one of the best defensive big men in the league, Joakim Noah, and Bosh can put up 28 points with 10 rebounds without having to bang as much on the interior, like he did Sunday.

"He's taking the right ones," Spoelstra said. "He's an excellent shooter. He's been an incredibly accurate shooter from 18 feet for a long time. It just took a little extra work to extend that range."

The other numbers that make the eyes open a bit wider were on the Bulls' end -- those of D.J. Augustin and Tony Snell.

Start with the minutes: nearly 74 combined.

Now, the Bulls were without Jimmy Butler (ribs), so Snell's minutes were elevated, but to consider that a team that would currently have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs is playing those two for that amount of time is nearly impossible to grasp.

If you're thinking to yourself, "Wait, those guys aren't that bad," you'll need to read the rest of that box score.

Augustin went 0-of-10 from the field Sunday, and Snell 2-of-10, largely contributing to Chicago's 35.8 shooting.

The Bulls had no guard options to replace Augustin, even if Tom Thibodeau wanted to. And the potential replacements for Snell included a second-round pick (Erik Murphy) and two D-League call-ups (Jarvis Varnado and Tornike Shengelia). It all goes to show just how much of a magician Thibodeau is as a head coach.

Or maybe hypnotist is more like it.

Thibodeau, with some help from Mr. Non-Stop himself, Joakim Noah, has this group convinced it should be able to consistently compete with teams like Miami, even if LeBron James had played. And normally, this Bulls group does just that, regardless of who plays.

Want in on some of Thibodeau's tactics? Just listen to his postgame comments Sunday.

"We have to be tougher," he said. "When things aren't going well, you can't allow [missed shots] take away from the intensity. They let it carry over to the other end. You can't do that. Not against a team like this.

Tougher? Is it really that simple, or is that a mind game? He does realize who he's playing for 30-plus minutes a game, right?

Whatever it is, it has been worthy of Coach of the Year honors every year he has been in that seat for Chicago. He has won one, and it'll be difficult to get that award away from Jeff Hornacek this season, but honestly Thibodeau has a great case every season.

Because even with those performances from Augustin and Snell, the Heat couldn't start to pull away from the Bulls until late in the third quarter.

Not that Spoelstra isn't worthy of his own praise. Sunday's win was the 300th of his career in just his sixth season, and it's his innovative basketball mind and his insistence that players constantly "reinvent themselves" that has the Heat players continually challenging themselves.

But Thibodeau is on another planet with his infectious intensity. So much so that a simple laugh, which he let out during a pregame interview with ABC, sent shockwaves through Twitter and spawned several GIFs of the rare vision.

So maybe it wasn't as entertaining as a battle of LeBron vs. Rose would've been.

But Sunday's Bulls-Heat matchup did find a different way to leave you shaking your head.

Israel Gutierrez is an NBA writer for ESPN.com.

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