Commentary

Bosh proves how vital he is to Heat

After missing three weeks with abdominal injury, Bosh delivers gut punch to C's

Originally Published: June 6, 2012
By Israel Gutierrez | ESPN.com

Chris BoshMike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesChris Bosh delivered in his third game back, hitting eight of his 10 shots to help lift the Heat.

MIAMI -- There are components to Chris Bosh that the bulk of the sports world didn't bother noticing until he thrust himself into the spotlight by joining the Miami Heat.

Bosh uncovered yet another layer Saturday night.

Apparently, the power of perspective goes a long way for him. It allowed him to perform well late in last year's postseason despite having no such experience from which to draw. And it made Game 7 against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, just his third game back from a significant abdominal injury, seem nothing like the pressure-packed experience it was painted to be.

In fact, Bosh made it look like he'd been there dozens of times.

"Ever since I played little league, I remember playing championship games in my backyard with my 10-and-under teams," Bosh said after the Heat's 101-88 victory. "And I think about those moments all the time.

[+] EnlargeChris Bosh
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesChris Bosh put in extra work on his 3-point shot. It paid off with Miami's second straight East title.

"When you play like you don't know there's a tomorrow, you can play free. You can be yourself, and you can let everything go and just play the game you love. That's what I did tonight."

If there was any question just how critical of an element Bosh is to this Heat's Big Three, it couldn't have been made any clearer than it was Saturday night.

Bosh didn't just score 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting, including three 3-pointers, grab eight rebounds and register a steal and a block in 31 minutes. He did it while looking like he was made for this. Did it without any hesitation, without any sign of rust or lingering pain.

He didn't just open up the driving lanes for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade by being a threat. He made the Celtics pay seemingly every time Kevin Garnett even considered sagging into the paint to help on James or Wade.

The game looked so much easier at times for the Heat just because he was there, which seemed to make performing in this critical, tense Game 7 that much less stressful for the Heat.

For three weeks without him, the Heat put on a good front. They rode James and Wade for everything they had left, it felt like, for the final five games of the series against Indiana, and then again for the first five games of these conference finals.

But Game 7 showed everyone not only that he's vital to the Heat -- but that he can be lethal, too.

"We all had a pit -- even though we didn't admit it -- we all had a big pit in our stomach when we saw him walking off the court in Game 1 of the Indiana series," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We played tough, but we knew that for two years he had been our most important player, because he makes it all work."

It's hardly a criticism of the Celtics to say they helped off Bosh too much and opened him up to be a key contributor. Heck, if the Celtics' game plan coming into a Game 7 included taking your chances that a rusty Bosh won't make a bunch of outside shots in a game of this magnitude, it's hard to blame them.

But Bosh took those critical jumpers with a visible confidence.

It's probably because he envisioned those shots coming. Not as a 10-year-old playing fantasy hoops in the backyard, but as an acute professional who studied the film of Game 6 in Boston.

"I knew they were going to be there this series, especially after the last game," Bosh said of the 3-pointers. "I kind of watched how they were defending. As bigs, sometimes you're so used to helping, and I know that.

"As soon as I saw Kevin and all their bigs helping out, I could space the floor and just step into it, and do what I've been practicing for, well, forever."

None of those huge shots would've happened, though, if Bosh hadn't also practiced the art of impatience.

The Heat weren't entirely forthcoming with Bosh's injury situation after he was examined on May 14. The official word was that Bosh suffered an abdominal "strain," which is essentially a partial tear. But now that he's back, some in the organization admit that there was nothing "partial" about it.

Bosh was told three weeks would be the absolute earliest he could return. And it wasn't said to him with much confidence. In fact, he was urged to think more in terms of four, five or even six weeks, which would effectively take him out of the playoffs entirely.

Once he told me the best-case scenario, three weeks, I said, 'OK, three weeks. But they said, 'Don't read too much into that.' I'm like, 'All right, three weeks.'

-- Chris Bosh

But Bosh heard three weeks, so he was determined to make it so.

"Once he told me the best-case scenario, three weeks, I said, 'OK, three weeks,'" Bosh said. "But they said, 'Don't read too much into that.' I'm like, 'All right, three weeks.'

"I just kept telling my teammates, 'Just get me to three weeks, and I'll be able to help you guys out.' Everybody was all in. Everybody said, 'All right, we're going to get there.'

"It was very deflating at first, but I just had to keep my mind [focused]."

Spoelstra said Bosh worked tirelessly once he was finally able to, getting in extra sessions whenever possible, including Friday, when Bosh decided to put in some extra work on that corner 3-pointer, which happened to come in handy Saturday night.

"Game ball automatically goes to him," James said of Bosh. "Without his production, we don't win.

"It's very unique that CB is coming off the bench, but it may be something great for us."

It doesn't truly matter when Bosh plays, just that he does.

He has gone from an apparent luxury for the Heat to an absolute necessity, at least at this level of the playoffs.

We already knew how important a championship was to Bosh. Just replay that scene of him collapsing after losing to the Mavericks in Game 6 of the NBA Finals if you need a reminder.

Now everyone has seen just how capable he is in these settings.

He performed well in the final two rounds of last year's playoffs. But not a single one of those games felt quite like this Game 7.

"It's always good to feel appreciated," Bosh said. "I always knew and my team always knew how important I was to this team.

"Now we're here. We get another crack at that 'ship."

Israel Gutierrez is an NBA writer for ESPN.com.