While LeBron James is two wins away from dashing away a lot of exemplums regarding his legacy in the NBA, no one has improved their image during the course of these playoffs like Chris Bosh has.
In the past, people have made fun of anything about Chris Bosh – from softness to cross dressing like RuPaul to his genitalia to… oh yeah, they don’t think he’s a very good basketball player either. He’s been called half a man when referring to the Miami Big 3 Two and a Half Men. He’s been the most overrated player in the NBA and nothing deserving of his contract.
It’s often been the ammunition coming out of the quills full of desperation for discounting what Miami is capable of doing, what kind of a team they are, and the reasons they’ll never win a title. When in reality, Chris Bosh has been arguably the best safety valve in recent memory. Last year, there were times in which he looked lost and didn’t fit in. There were also times in which his scoring and spacing provided the perfect balance to Miami’s attack.
Chris Bosh has often been the hindquarters of Miami Heat jokes because he was the easiest target amongst their larger than usual 3. LeBron is the best player in the world and, aside from some hairline jokes, there really isn’t a lot you can say. Dwyane Wade is one of the best players in the league and has helped lead his team to a championship before. Guys like him usually get a free pass once they’ve won the coveted ring.
However, Chris Bosh is part of the evolution of today’s big man. He can handle the ball in the open court as well as many wing players. He’s long and lanky and doesn’t have a lot of bulk to his body. It behooves him to take bigger and slower players to deeper waters on the court to see if they can swim. He’s not your traditional banger so it’s easy to just dismiss his strengths for a perceived lack of power within his game.
When Omer Asik dove for a loose ball near his ankles or he claimed the mindset was to want to chill instead of practice, people used that as a cold fusion formula to power their ridicule for Chris Bosh. When bigger players like Andrew Bynum or Dwight Howard or LaMarcus Aldridge pushed him around on random nights in the NBA regular seasons, people used it as fodder for why he wasn’t a real big man. And when Chris Bosh claimed after the Game 1 loss this past week that he was going to be more of a traditional big man, many of us just sort of giggled about the notion that he’d play big.
Bosh isn’t a typical back-to-the-basket type of post player so it’s weird for him to pretend he’s going to be that way. After Games 2 and 3 of the NBA Finals, it seems like Bosh’s promise of being a more “traditional big man” has meant rebounding and defense, more than just posting up on the block. In Game 2, Bosh stepped up to the challenge with 16 points and 15 rebounds. Last night in Game 3, he had just 10 points on 3/12 shooting but he also contributed 11 rebounds and incredible help defense.
Kevin Durant ran amuck in the fourth quarter of the first two games of this series. He came off screens, he attacked the basket, and he dominated those in isolation. Watching Durant take over in the final 12 minutes of the game, whether he won or lost, was like seeing a big fireworks show. It was all stuff you’ve seen before but to see it all happen in full succession can make your eyes dance and your jaw drop. It was clear Shane Battier didn’t have the length and as good as LeBron James is defensively, he doesn’t have the ability to stop Durant all the time. And when Dwyane Wade got switched to guarding KD, Pat Riley couldn’t call in the National Guard quickly enough.
Three times in the fourth quarter, Chris Bosh came to the aid of his fellow Heat…ers (Heaters? Heats? Warm guys?). He was the help defense that shut down the league’s best end-of-game scorer by pouncing on open spaces he was attacking and using his long frame to challenge shots by Durant.
(Please excuse my Sebastian Pruiti impersonation here. It’s not going to be nearly as good as something he does, but it’s a great style of breaking down a play.)
The first play came with seven minutes left in the fourth when Derek Fisher failed to deliver a post-entry pass to Durant against LeBron. Durant circled around, took the handoff at the right wing and moved toward the top of the key. After a slight bobble on a crossover, Durant attacked LeBron to the left side of the key.
As Durant moves toward the basket, Russell Westbrook cuts from the left wing through the lane. With Wade holding close to Fisher in the right corner, Chalmers was behind Westbrook on the cut leaving Bosh to cover the area under the basket. This essentially left him protecting against a dump pass to either Russ or Collison on either side of the basket.
Chalmers stops following Westbrook to try and cut off Durant, possibly drawing a charge. Bosh is flat-footed while trying to keep an even distance between both of the passing options. To Durant, this has to look like an easy scoring opportunity once he avoids Chalmers.
As Durant avoids Chalmers and protects the ball, Bosh gets ready to challenge the shot. He’s able to leave Westbrook alone on the lower left side because Wade drops down to help in case of a pass. For some reason, Derek Fisher roams toward the area instead of staying wide and giving Durant a safety valve.
When Durant leaves his feet, Bosh goes to meet him at the top. He’s knocks the ball away with his left while leaving his right arm down to challenge a quick pass. He actually jumps quicker than Durant does and beats Kevin’s hand to the point of release.
The second help defense play happened with roughly 2:35 left in the fourth quarter. It’s a post-up to Durant on the right side of the floor.
The help defense by Miami is all on the left side of the lane, leaving a lot of room for Durant to operate if he can get past LeBron. Note that Kendrick Perkins is in the game and being defended by Bosh, so it’s like the Thunder are playing 4-on-5 (even if Perk did have a couple of offensive plays in this game).
As Durant begins his move, he sucks in the attention of the three perimeter defenders for Miami. Westbrook rotates from the right wing to the top of the key, but Chalmers doesn’t completely follow him. Because of the defenders dropping down to show help, Durant can’t go to the middle. They’re forcing him baseline.
As Durant moves baseline, Chalmers and Battier retreat to potential shooters. LeBron bodies Durant to the baseline but still gets beat enough to where he can’t exactly challenge the shot. As Durant steps through to the basket, Kendrick Perkins starts positioning himself at the basket. This actually ALLOWS Bosh to step to the help spot on the low block to challenge the shot.
Possibly with the earlier block in Durant’s mind, Bosh changes the shot without actually attacking it at the point of release. Durant’s attempt is a little wild and Wade drops down to challenge Perk for the rebound. It eventually comes to Bosh.
The third play in the fourth quarter happened with 1:17 left in the ball game. Durant gets the ball in isolation after passing out of a double team in the high post. With Sefolosha in the strong side corner, Chalmers can’t help too far off.
As soon as Durant gets the ball back behind the 3-point line, Bosh is in help position on the strong side low block, even with Perkins (again, it’s kind of like 4-on-5) still on the weak side block. Shane Battier drops down to shadow Perkins and negate any idea of a lob pass inside.
As Durant drives past LeBron, Chalmers comes halfway in help to slow Durant down a bit. Bosh has retreated to Perkins to remain honest, but he’s also coming back to challenge Durant. Battier is able to back off Perkins without completely leaving him because Harden has moved more into the weak side corner, rather than staying high on the wing.
Four things here:
1. Battier drops down, much like Wade did on the previous play, to battle Perkins on the boards.
2. Bosh steps over to get into position to challenge Durant’s shot once again.
3. Chalmers shoots back to the corner to defend Sefolosha (53.3% from the right corner 3 this season).
4. LeBron, while beaten on the drive, is able to harass Kevin Durant over the top to keep him from getting the ball high and over the reach of any defender. Durant would have to be mindful of LeBron knocking the ball away if he shows it too early.
Bosh is able to challenge the shot on the lower right side once again, and Shane Battier boxes Perkins under the basket and away from grabbing the rebound. This was one of many rebounding opportunities by Miami in which they outnumbered OKC on the boards with a team effort.
For all of the warts and knocks on Bosh’s game, he’s been a pretty spectacular player throughout his career. He’s not a bruiser and he’s not an all-time great by any stretch of the historical imagination. What he happens to be is someone adapting his game to fit into a team concept in order to help win a title.
When Bosh went down against Indiana in the second round, it forced the rest of the Heat players to learn how to play without that safety valve. Other role players had to step up while LeBron and Wade had to become more aggressive. It forced LeBron to play as a big man more often against two extremely tough opponents inside (Indiana and Boston) while learning how to balance out his efforts. And once Bosh came back, everybody was able to bring their adjustments to life without Bosh and mold them into the team effort you’re seeing in the last two wins with him.
Chris Bosh isn’t going to win any Finals MVP awards and he isn’t going to remind us of Tim Duncan any time soon. What he’s doing is proving his worth as a basketball player on both ends of the floor. He’s a really good player and one of the best big men in the league. He’s shown his worth throughout these playoffs and proven that the jokes at his expense were pretty overrated. He’s a safety valve on offense, a presence on the boards right now, and a defender willing to step up and challenge shots inside.
That’s what a traditional big man does, right?