- Michael Wallace, ESPN Staff Writer
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Bosh was 15 when he saw Duncan help San Antonio win its first title in 1999. So with the Spurs in the Finals for the fifth time in 15 seasons, Bosh welcomed the chance to match up with one of his teenage basketball idols.
Duncan said he felt both honored and old when informed that Bosh was such a big fan. But don't expect a Mean Joe Greene jersey exchange or sympathy from Duncan for Bosh's recent playoff struggles, at least not right now.
"We're both here for singular purposes, to try to beat each other up," Duncan said of Bosh. "Continue to ... make his life as hard as possible. We don't know what he's been going through, but we hope his struggles continue because he's a big part of what they have to do [to be successful]."
Not everyone has a vested interest in Bosh's emergence. But perhaps no one wants to see Bosh get his game back on track more than teammate Dwyane Wade. Both players have had similar difficulties during what has shaped up as the least productive stretches since they were rookies.
Their sporadic play cropped up again in a 92-88 loss in Game 1 to the Spurs on Thursday, when Wade and Bosh combined for two points on 1-of-7 shooting in the fourth quarter. Bosh missed an open 3-pointer with 1:02 left that would have cut the deficit to one point, and Wade missed a layup in the final seconds as Miami trailed by four.
Wade and Bosh have been relying on each other in recent days to get through these rough playoff patches.
With Game 2 on Sunday, they don't have much time to feel sorry for themselves. As the Heat look to even the series at 1-1 before the scene shifts to San Antonio for the following three games, Bosh and Wade maintain faith that their support system will eventually produce a turnaround.
"We connected and everything, just really trying to figure things out," Bosh said of the talks with Wade. "To be honest, sometimes to get to that place you just have to hang out and not talk about basketball. Basketball is all around us right now. We're pretty much submerged in it. But sometimes, to just be able to get away from it and to hang out with your friend is a good medicine."
As LeBron James looks to the other two members of the Heat's Big Three for a boost on the court, Wade and Bosh have spent some time away from the arena to sort through issues that have affected their play and consistency.
Wade has been hampered by right knee bruises for three months as he juggles flashes of dynamic play with frustration from his inability to sustain those moments. Meanwhile, Bosh was already losing confidence in his role before he sprained his right ankle during the Heat's seven-game series victory against Indiana in the conference finals.
Bosh said his recent gatherings with Wade began when the two spontaneously met at a restaurant near their homes late in the series against Indiana. Wade said the sessions have included hanging out at Bosh's house to play video games and get their minds as far away from their struggles as possible.
Everything isn't going to go your way all the time. That's what overcoming things are about.
"-- Chris Bosh, on bouncing back from tough stretches
"There are times when you have to take your mind away from the game, just look at other things and see how blessed you are," Wade said. "So just going over to Chris' house, hanging out. He's playing video games, and I was just watching at first, just chitchatting about whatever. Sometimes that lets you know how important you are to another person, how important you are to the success of the team. So it's just showing brotherhood."
Even as Bosh's role has changed -- in some ways drastically -- from when he averaged more than 20 points and 10 rebounds during his last few seasons in Toronto, Wade doesn't want the converted Heat center to lose sight of that player.
Despite evolving from one of the most versatile power forwards in the league to primarily a spot-up shooting big man who helps space the floor for James, Bosh has been at his best when he takes a more traditional approach.
Bosh gradually lost his way during the series against the Pacers and seemed overwhelmed by 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert and rugged power forward David West. Bosh averaged just 4.3 rebounds a game in the conference finals and shot 23.5 percent from the field over the final four games of the series.
Some of those issues carried into the Finals. Bosh scored in double figures for the first time in five games when he finished with 13 points in Game 1 against the Spurs, but he missed 10 of 16 shots, including all four 3-point attempts, and didn't secure his fifth rebound until the final seconds.
Wade has been telling Bosh to forget about his offense and focus on rebounding and protecting the rim like he did in pivotal stages of the series against Milwaukee and Chicago. The best playoff game of Bosh's career came in Game 3 against the Bulls, when he had 20 points, 19 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. There was also a 16-point, 14-rebound performance in Game 3 against the Bucks.
But those seem like relatively distant memories.
"Everything isn't going to go your way all the time. That's what overcoming things are about," Bosh said. "I had a pretty decent season, finding my spots. It changes in the playoffs. That's something I have to figure out a little bit."
Bosh has also assisted in Wade's search for answers. They were at no lower point than in Game 6 against the Pacers, when the two accounted for just 15 points on 4-of-19 shooting in their lowest combined output as teammates since joining forces with James in the summer of 2010.
But Wade has had a bit of a resurgence the past two games. After finishing with 21 points and nine rebounds in the series-clinching win against the Pacers, Wade opened Game 1 against the Spurs with a dunk and scored 13 of his 17 points in the first half Thursday. Then came that second-half drought that culminated in a scoreless fourth quarter.
"It's one of those things where it's from quarter to quarter," Wade said. "You have to make some kind of positive impact while you're on the basketball floor. If you can't make a positive impact, then you need to sit down."
Bosh has offered Wade the same reminders that have gotten him through some of his most inconsistent stretches. The message is simple: Never forget what got you here.
"I'm not going to compromise my whole body of work off of one series or two games or three games or a half a season, for that matter," Bosh said. "Just capitalize."
In essence, don't compromise.
Move forward and capitalize.
Wade and Bosh have turned to each other to gain strength amid their struggles. The next challenge is to transfer that connection, their enhanced bond, to the court.
"To be able to bounce back from certain situations, you have to have a toughness, you have to have a collective character," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We've been through enough pain collectively that it can be motivating."
Wade and Bosh have valued each other's company off the court.
"It's just a unique situation," Bosh said.
Maybe as unique as having a Duncan poster on your wall.
2dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann