On Tuesday night, Chris Bosh returned from the abdominal injury that had sidelined him from the Miami Heat’s last nine playoff games. Bosh came off the bench, and logged 9 points and 7 rebounds in just 14 minutes of limited playing time. However, for the third game in a row, the Heat came up short against the resilient veteran Boston Celtics, dropping Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals 94-90.
While the general consensus from ESPN’s analysts seems to be that coach Erik Spoelstra did not play Bosh enough in his first game back, keeping him out of the game for the entire fourth quarter may have actually been one of the better coaching moves he has made over the past three games. The truth is that Bosh’s impact on the game was a negative one for Miami, and while he still may be playing injured, his lack of defensive presence last night only added insult to injury.
As the head coach, Spoelstra’s job is to put a winning lineup on the floor. He is not concerned with players’ individual stats, nor most analysts’ naïve obsession with those stats. Nevertheless, there was one statistic which Spoelstra could not neglect when it came to choosing his lineup down the stretch, and that was the team-low plus/minus rating of -12 for Chris Bosh last night.
Bosh scored all 9 of his points, while pulling down 6 out of his 7 rebounds during the 10 minutes he played in the first half. He later returned to the lineup with just under 4 minutes to go in the third, playing until the end of the quarter while grabbing just one rebound, and then was sidelined for the rest of the night. Bosh says he felt healthy enough to keep contributing, but there is good reason for why Spoelstra apparently did not feel that those contributions were very beneficial.
Bosh exerted little to no effort on defense last night, and only appeared to have any energy at all while on offense. Rondo was not able to effectively penetrate until Bosh’s early minutes, and while the Celtics could not really capitalize on Bosh’s pitiable defensive presence in the first half, Bosh’s return to the lineup in the third sparked an 11-0 run for Boston to finish out the quarter, while jumping out to a 5 point lead. Kevin Garnett absolutely dominated Bosh in the paint during that time, and even rookie big man Greg Stiemsma was able to contribute down low while Bosh was playing.
Both of these teams pride themselves on tough lockdown defense, so it is no wonder that Spoelstra felt more comfortable finishing out the game without the big man whose defensive presence was virtually nonexistent. As aforementioned, Bosh only exerted energy on the offensive end, which also explains why 6 out of his 7 rebounds came as offensive boards. Every time the Celtics missed a shot, Bosh was nowhere to be found, and the Heat were forced to rely on non-big men to pull down the defensive rebounds.
For Bosh to be effective in this series, he needs to contribute much more than just an ability to score. The dynamic duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have shown that they can carry the team’s scoring load, and the more shots that Bosh takes, the less shots that they take. On the offensive end, James dominated in the first half, while Wade was their go-to scorer down the stretch. Coach Doc Rivers felt that the Celtics merely had to weather the storm until their defensive consistency paid off, and Bosh’s lack of a positive impact helped them to do so, while they simultaneously increased their scoring output in each quarter due to big defensive stops. While many seem to agree that the Heat could have won if Bosh had played more than 14 minutes, it seems to me that the head coaches are the only ones who were really watching the game.