MIAMI — Gregg Popovich didn’t need nine days to figure out a game plan for the Miami Heat.
The San Antonio Spurs’ coach needed to watch just nine minutes of footage from the Eastern Conference finals matchup between the Heat and Indiana Pacers to find the weak link his team could exploit in The Finals.
Heat center Chris Bosh made the job easy for him, sticking out on offensive and defensive possessions where he wasn’t engaged in the action. He also played smaller than you’d expect from an eight-time All-Star and a $100 million man who has already anointed himself a future Hall of Famer.
Bosh played to the Spurs’ script in San Antonio’s Game 1 win, making just six of his 16 shot attempts, grabbing just four rebounds and coming up woefully short in the fourth quarter. He missed a wide open 3-pointer with 1:02 to play and the Heat trailing by four, a shot the Spurs will let him take anytime in this series.
“We had an opportunity to get into the paint,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He was open … probably for a reason at that point. But we had a couple of different options, triggers to get guys into the paint or to get into another situation. You know what, we’ll take that shot. He’s been making those. It’s an open shot in the fourth quarter. It didn’t come down to that.”
Sure it did, for Bosh, who needs a redemption game in the worst way in Game 2 Sunday.
It came down to that and all the other missed opportunities to assert himself, both in the conference finals (where he averaged 11.0 points and 4.3 rebounds against Pacers big men Roy Hibbert and David West) and in the 47 minutes leading up to that 3-point miss in Game 1 against the Spurs.
The Spurs left Bosh open the way you would expect them to leave Joel Anthony, the Heat’s former starting center, open in the same situation. It’s not so much a sign of disrespect of Bosh’s game but a nod to the obvious. Bosh is struggling mightily this postseason — the last big-time game he had was in Game 3 of the conference semifinals against Chicago when he finished with 20 points, 19 rebounds and two blocks in the Heat’s 104-94 win.
Bosh hasn’t scored more than 17 points in any game since then and didn’t even manage double digits in the last four games of the conference finals. He hasn’t had a double-digit rebound game since then, either — a stretch of 10 straight playoff games. That’s unacceptable for a player in Bosh’s tax bracket.
Even more perplexing is his reluctance to challenge the Spurs inside. Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter are classic big men but not the rugged forces inside that Hibbert and West are. And yet Bosh rarely ventured inside in Game 1. He missed all four of his 3-point attempts, taking as many as Ray Allen, and only four of his 16 shot attempts came inside the paint, where he was 1-for-4. The only real damage he did against the Spurs was with his mid-range game, going 5-for-8 on those shots.
It’s clear that Bosh has allowed his solid 3-point shooting effort in the playoffs (15-for-31 for 48 percent prior to Game 1) to convince him that he’s more effective from distance. That’s why he claims his confidence hasn’t wavered in recent weeks or after he came up empty in Game 1.
“It’s a part of sports,” he said of his late miss from deep. “You really don’t have to think about it. You just react. And that’s something I always lived by no matter what the situation is. I have confidence in myself and my teammates have confidence in me, every shot that I shoot I expect it to go in. Some do and some don’t.”
But sometimes those numbers can lie. They don’t always tell the true story. And the Spurs want, better yet, they need Bosh to believe in them. They need him to play into their hands by drifting on the perimeter and allowing them to lock down the lane defensively.
Bosh has been non-existent in the pick-and-roll, mostly because he hasn’t shown any inclination to roll to the basket. That allows the Spurs to collapse the lane the same way Indiana did against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and leaves the Heat with one less body around the basket to help on the boards.
Bosh has to find a way to leave much larger footprint on this series. Some way, some how, he has to be a factor.
“Anytime you get into a series, you have to recognize how a team is playing you. And sometimes it’s not your series,” Allen said. “I’ve been in several series where scoring-wise it wasn’t really in my direction – teams were taking me out. So it’s important you find a way to have an impact. Shane [Battier] came in the game last night, he altered shots, he got loose balls, he got us second-chance opportunities, and he had a great impact on the game. So each one of us has to find a way to have that impact on the floor.
‘With CB, there’s so many opportunities in the paint,” Allen continued. “We’re going to have to rely on him, we’re going to need him. And if he doesn’t score a bucket for us to to be efficient and effect the game, that goes for all of us. We have to be willing to make that sacrifice. I don’t think his confidence has wavered. I just always say I can make it easier on him out there when that ball comes. Especially early, trying to get him into the paint a little bit more. When the ball comes to him, just get that second-chance pick-and-roll where I can come off and get it back to him, so he can get something a little short or something rolling to the rim so he can get some easy buckets.”
The choice is simple for Bosh: he either makes the adjustment to his game and acquaints himself with the painted area or risks more performances like the ones he’s turned over the past 10 games. He either does a little film study of his own, breaking down his own shortcomings and highlighting the things he can tweak in his own game or continues to be the Heat’s weakest link in this postseason and this series.
But there’s no doubt about it, more than anyone else, the burden is on Bosh to change the course of this series for the Heat.