MIAMI – The Miami Heat didn’t add an All-Star power forward to their varied and formidable weapons Tuesday night. They added another layer of drama.
With Chris Bosh returning from his abdominal strain and playing for the Heat for the first time since Game 1 of the conference semifinals vs. Indiana, it was only a matter of time before that became an issue. Barring consecutive blowout victories of Boston in Games 5 and 6 of this series to bull into The Finals, followed by a cruise over whomever the West champions wind up being, the decision to use Bosh – vs. not use Bosh vs. use Bosh a little vs. use Bosh too much – was certain to incite controversy.
Because what, with this team, doesn’t?
The Heat are in a predicament now, heading to Boston for a game that could make or break not just their postseason but this whole fascinating, excessive experiment of superstars cubed. A team that prides itself on its defense got progressively worse in Game 5 at AmericanAirlines Arena, holding the Celtics to 16 points in the first quarter, then losing them and yielding 30 in the fourth.
Coach Erik Spoelstra was hearing it in his home arena and from the talking heads on national TV: that he’s getting outcoached by Doc Rivers, he’s not adjusting to the Celtics’ adjustments, he’s tinkering too much with his lineup and rotations, his team isn’t focused enough in timeouts and, yes, that he didn’t play Bosh enough.
The thinking on that one: Bosh came back from a nine-game absence in the playoffs and actually was light on rust and helpful offensively (nine points, six rebounds off the bench in 11 first-half minutes). But he only played three more in the third quarter and none in the fourth, and thus could do nothing to make things difficult when the Celtics went back to Kevin Garnett down the stretch the way they had so effectively in Boston.
“I didn’t think it would necessarily be fair to him to throw him in with three minutes to go,” Spoelstra said.
Just a guess: The first concern of Heat fans late Tuesday was not the fairness to Bosh.
The Celtics’ defensive changes, from man-to-man to zone and back, weren’t always effective but they did seem to stymie Miami in stretches. For instance, the 15-1 run with which Boston closed out the third quarter, turning a 59-50 deficit into a 65-60 lead. The middle of the fourth quarter, too, when the Heat scored only three points in almost three minutes as their offense degenerated into isolation.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both had long cold spells in the game, but they did finish with 57 points on a combined 47 shots, hitting 21 (44.6 percent). Everybody else on their team went 11-for-35 (31.4 percent). Miami had 15 turnovers and just 13 assists; Rajon Rondo had that many by himself for Boston. It scored eight fast-break points.
Then there was Spoelstra hitting the postgame media session with the sort of stuff that, if he’s using it in the Miami locker room, might explain plenty. “It’s a loss and that’s all it is,” he said. “Our focus … is to fight any kind of noise from the outside or any human condition, and to collectively come together strong to prepare for the next game.”
The earnest Heat coach also mentioned “collective character” and “energies” and seemed more like a morale officer than a coach reviewing what had just happened on the court.
The Miami Heat are headed to Boston for Game 6, where James played in a Game 6 two years ago that basically triggered his departure from Cleveland. If they don’t beat the Celtics, the crowd at TD Garden and whatever else ails them right now — internal confusion, offensive stagnation, defensive napping — to force a Game 7, the players and their coach could be in for the noisiest offseason of this or any other human condition.