- Heat vs. Pacers: Series Hub
Chris Bosh may be the Miami Heat player who needs to foul out.
That, at least, would be an indication that he is taking his defensive work seriously in his Eastern Conference finals matchup with Indiana center Roy Hibbert.
An over-the-back, loose-ball foul every now and then would make a statement. So would sending Hibbert to the line a little more often (the biggest Pacer already has shot 31 free throws, more than any Miami player, but too few at Bosh’s hand).
Instead, Bosh’s primary concern through the first four games, with Game 5 Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami (8:30, TNT), seems to be staying eligible. On multiple plays Tuesday in which he might have sought contact to thwart an easy bucket – or better yet, save LeBron James or another teammate from having to do it and risk a whistle – Bosh has been passive. A little bit of foul trouble, on top of his sore ankle, and avoiding a sixth foul soars to the top of his priority list.
Wait, did we say sixth? Since signing with Miami in July 2010, Bosh has had only nine games – out of the 256 he has played as part of the Big 3 – in which he committed as many as five fouls. He hasn’t fouled out once. Fact is, Bosh has only fouled out of a game just twice since the end of the 2005-06 season; eight of his 10 disqualifications came in his first three seasons, back when Bosh was establishing both his reputation and the manner in which he would play defensively in this league.
Yeah, yeah, we know: Wilt Chamberlain never fouled out of a game in his 13 NBA seasons. But Wilt could get by on sheer size when dragging four or five fouls around late in games. Bosh isn’t built that way. At his position of power forward, let alone “center,” foul trouble comes with the job. Tim Duncan has fouled out 20 times in his career. Kevin Garnett, 27 times. If you’re active and engaged and you take pride in your defense, it’s going to happen.
But it has happened only twice in the past seven years for Bosh — and not at all over the last three.
Obviously, disqualification is no one’s goal. But Bosh will shy away from the tough stuff that might deprive him of court time earlier in the game, too (two fouls in the first quarter or a third in the second). That doesn’t lend itself to the by-whatever-means-necessary mentality of the playoffs.
Does anyone think Hibbert’s natural inclinations take him toward, rather than away from, the elbows, forearms and shoulders down low? Hardly. But as Hibbert said after Game 4: “I’m just trying to do my part and create extra possessions and try to be tough. It’s a mental thing, really. Do you want to go in there and bang with LeBron, Chris Bosh and Birdman [Chris Andersen] or would you rather just be on the outskirts of the paint and just say ‘I’m going to get back in transition?’ … You have to throw yourself in there and that’s one of the aspects I try to bring if I don’t have the ball in my hands.”
Hibbert is averaging 22.8 points and 12.0 rebounds in the series and, no, he hasn’t fouled out either. But that’s just an indicator, cited in Bosh’s case to illustrate the way he’s playing and to juxtapose it with James’ rare DQ Tuesday.
Bosh is averaging 14.0 points and 3.3 rebounds this round, and it’s that latter number that is a problem for the Heat, to the point of being unacceptable and a major source of his team’s woes with the series tied 2-2.
The world has been told repeatedly about the 6-foot-10 power forward’s grand sacrifice in a) playing as Miami’s nominal starting “center” and b) doing so without bulking up or reconfiguring his game to something more traditional as a low-post banger. He has been asked to draw the other guys’ big men away from the paint with his range and touch, sometimes as a pick-and-pop but often as a spot-up shooter.
That might explain Bosh’s total of two offensive rebounds in four games (the same number as guards Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen). But 11 in four games off the defensive glass? Nobody is pulling Bosh away from the paint at that end of the floor. In fact, Hibbert (26 offensive rebounds) and David West (12) are pounding inside like few other 4-5 tandems in the league, yet Bosh’s shaky fundamentals in holding position and boxing out are getting exploited.
For what it’s worth, Bosh seems to get it. “We had them right where we wanted them but every time we would get a stop, especially in the fourth quarter, we didn’t come up with the rebound,” he said Tuesday. “They got too many offensive rebounds.”
Indiana is plus-31 in rebounds through four games – with 61 on offense to Miami’s 92 defensive boards – and plus-33 in second-chance points. Unless those margins head south in the coming days, Miami is in trouble and coach Erik Spoelstra knows it.
“You have to get into the fight,” he said. “The thing about it, when you have a front line like that and an aggressive team and that’s their nature, they don’t make it easy. Conversely, we don’t make it easy on them in our game. That’s what this is about.
“If we don’t get into that battle every single possession, they impose their will,” Spoelstra continued. ” That’s their game. And they’re very good at it. When we get into that battle and we’re winning those battles, the script flips, and now they have to deal with a lot of things that we can impose on them.”
In last year’s East semifinal series against the Pacers, the Heat played without Bosh for the final five games due to his abdominal strain. They’re playing without him now more than they should be, for reasons entirely of style and will.