OKLAHOMA CITY — What we rediscovered is Chris Bosh can start and Dwyane Wade can finish and when that happens, the Heat can make this a series.
Well, we have one. We have a sense of intrigue and the potential for an epic NBA Finals because LeBron James did not go solo Thursday. He didn’t have to, not like Game 1, when Bosh and Wade made him feel like a kid whose friends scatter after a baseball crashes through the neighbors’ window.
There was Wade in Game 2, slashing toward the basket, attacking the rim, dropping fallaway jumpers. And there was Bosh, being introduced in the starting lineup, yanking rebounds, making teams pay on the pick-and-roll, providing much-needed interior defense. Like old times. And in the nick of time.
Does this mean Miami is headed for a championship? Not necessarily. The Heat certainly aren’t beating the Thunder unless Bosh and Wade play to this level and keep James, already overloaded with burden and responsibility, from grinding into dust. Bosh and Wade had their Welcome To The Finals Moment, combining for 40 points, with Bosh chipping in 15 rebounds and Wade five assists. But it was the way they went about their business, doing it aggressively, the only way any team stands any chance of beating the Thunder.
Two nights earlier, those two were a vapor, raising questions about whether either would or could make an impact in this series. Wade missed 12 of 19 shots and appeared sloppy and lethargic once again during a sluggish first half, a disturbing pattern for him in the post-season. Bosh came off the bench and never developed any rhythm or played big near the rim.
That all changed in Heat 100, Thunder 96. Bosh scored 10 of his 16 points inside the paint, quite a difference from a game ago when all 11 of his shots were outside jumpers. Wade also took his game closer to the basket and Miami had 48 points, nearly half its total, in the paint.
“We wanted to come out and play a very complete game,” Bosh said. “We didn’t want to have any regrets.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra inserted Bosh in the starting lineup for the first time since Bosh returned from abdominal surgery and it was a wise move. The decision was made at practice a day earlier when Spoelstra called for the starting unit and Bosh stepped forward. And then Bosh never stopped. He started strong, with 10 points and 10 rebounds in the first half, and Miami’s biggest lead was 17. He played 40 problem-free minutes, his longest since post-injury. He’s in the starting lineup to stay.
“I knew I had to give the effort that I had given before, whether I was ready to or not,” Bosh said.
After Game 1, Wade had to endure more speculation about his health and whether he was aging before our eyes. His post-season has been sporadic, with bursts of brilliance followed without warning by disappearing lapses and an inability to finish plays. There have been few, if any playoff games where Wade was the dominant player on the floor for Miami. And that certainly wasn’t the case in Game 1.
“I know my abilities,” Wade said. “I know what I’m capable of doing. Tonight I was more aware of the opportunities I had in Game 1 and I was able to attack it.”
Wade escaped a close call when he lost the ball with 48 seconds left in a whiplash sequence that ended with a Kevin Durant three-pointer and suddenly a five-point lead fell to two. Free throws from James and a miss by Durant bailed Miami and Wade out, but that shouldn’t dismiss what he did in 39 minutes, when he made half his shots, scored 24 points with six rebounds and five assists and broke OKC’s defense.
“For the rest of the series I’ll continue to be aggressive,” Wade said.
If he follows through with that promise, then Miami has hope and OKC has problems. On a night when the Heat couldn’t afford anything less, Bosh and Wade finally made for a Big Three and gave us a series. These Finals weren’t going anywhere unless Bosh, the only big man who’ll get OKC’s attention and respect, and Wade, who complements James, raised their game.
“Chris was sensational,” Spoelstra said. “And Dwyane, he set the tone at the beginning. You could see with his aggressiveness, his bounce. And we’ll need it.”