BOSTON – It has become the equivalent of “How ya doin’?” when people first see Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, a salutation by rote. Only in this case, what Spoelstra hears is “What’s the latest on Chris Bosh?” Or, depending on the day of the week, “Is Chris playing tonight?”
So Spoelstra went preemptive after the Heat’s shootaround Sunday morning at TD Garden.
“Why don’t I start it off by saying, Chris is still indefinite. He’s not playing tonight [in Game 4],” Spoelstra said. “Everybody else is ready to go.”
Bosh, the Heat’s All-Star power forward, has been unavailable since Game 1 of the last round with a lower abdominal strain. His absence appeared to be felt most acutely in Miami’s next two games when it fell behind the Indiana Pacers 2-1 in their Eastern Conference semifinal series. But then LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest strung together five consecutive victories, eliminating the Pacers and going up 2-0 on Boston in the East finals as they seemingly adjusted to Bosh’s absence.
Meanwhile, Bosh was recovering and rehabbing. He finally joined the Heat on the trip to Boston for Games 3 and 4 this weekend, and participated in the team’s prep work as a stand-in for Celtics big man Kevin Garnett. Spoelstra observed one of Bosh’s individual workouts, which has involved both rehab and basketball drills, but continues to classify the third of Miami’s Big Three as “indefinite.”
Still, Boston’s and Garnett’s play in Game 3 made Bosh conspicuous again by his absence – the Celtics outrebounded Miami44-32 and scored 58 points in the paint as Garnett went almost unchallenged in using his length to receive the ball and score.
There are some who believe Bosh won’t be available at all this spring, no matter how long Miami’s playoff run lasts. Others – all of this speculation is going on outside the Heat’s inner circle, mind you – have pointed to The Finals as a target for his return. But what if they all don’t get that far? What if they face elimination against Boston and the Celtics continue to control things inside?
That could fast-track an attempt by Bosh to play and, if he were to hold up physically, shift the concerns to how he suddenly would fit back into Miami’s offense and defense. Just as the Heat haven’t had Bosh to protect the rim or demand attention from the Celtics’ defense, so James and Wade haven’t had to serve his shot totals or navigate around him down low. Boston coach Doc Rivers feels Miami has adapted completely, making its two superstar wing players more dangerous than ever.
“We’ll gladly cross that bridge when we get there,” Spoelstra said prior to Game 3. “For the last two years … we couldn’t play effectively without Chris. HE was our most important player. And we’ve had to make adjustments on the fly and reinvent ourselves, it seems, like daily to do that.”
Oft-injured swingman Mike Miller isn’t as important in Miami’s scheme as Bosh but he certainly knows the adjustments required on both sides when someone who’s been hurt returns to action.
“There will be adjustment periods, not for us as much as for him,” Miller said Sunday morning. “Just for getting back into the flow of aggressive, physical basketball. When he gets back, we’re right in the middle of the Eastern Conference finals. It’s not like you’re going into a regular season game. But he’ll be fine.
“He’s too talented to [be stopped] by that and once he gets his rhythm back he’ll be really good. We need Chris.”