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Chris Bosh has had many a low point this season. From being the de facto scapegoat anytime the Heat went into a slump to personally admitting to being overwhelmed emotionally by the Boston crowd in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Bosh has received his fair share of criticism. At times, Bosh’s play has warranted some blame, but overall I feel as if Bosh has been under too much scrutiny this season. He was an all-star, he averaged 19 and eight with the lowest usage rate of his career and he was the focal point of Miami’s offense when it was at its best.
Well if his game four performance against the Celtics wasn’t enough Bosh certainly has quieted his doubters with his performance in this series. In game one Bosh was the only one of Miami’s big three to come through and even though the Heat ended up losing in a rout, Bosh went for 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting while grabbing nine rebounds. At the time I thought that performance was Bosh’s best game of his career but Bosh’s play last night took the cake.
In a 96-85 victory in game three, Bosh scored 34 points on 13-of-18 shooting. Bosh only grabbed five rebounds but he did get himself to the line 10 times and his mid-range jumper was on-point all game long. After a few foul line jumpers went down Bosh started beaming with confidence and he was able to make more than a few aggressive moves to the cup, resulting in a thunderous dunk and some trips to the line. Bosh shot five-of-nine on his 16-23 foot jumpers and converted on seven of his eight attempts within nine feet of the basket.
Bosh poured it on all night long. He missed his first couple of attempts but a jawing match with Bulls’ back-up power forward Taj Gibson seemed to light a fire inside of him. Gibson was actually talking to Bosh during a play in the first quarter but Bosh burned him on a baseline spin move that earned him two free throws. As Gibson chatted with the referee after the call was made TNT’s cameras caught Bosh clearly saying something in Gibson’s ear when he walked past him. Bosh isn’t always demonstrative but this incident as well as his viscous chest pounding in the fourth quarter made it clear that this was a special game for Bosh. Forget the fact that Bosh missed just five of his 18 shots, which is Dirk Nowitzki-like, but his demeanor was a lot different than it normally is.
With Bosh doing all of the scoring, LeBron James took a backseat and focused more on distributing the basketball. James made some perfect pocket passes, a few of which were directed to Bosh, giving him some open looks from this favorite spots on the floor. James finished with 10 assists, his highest helper total this post-season, to go along with 22 points and six rebounds. Watching James operate without scoring being his overall intent, instead focusing on moving the ball for the majority of the contest, was stellar. James did turn on a switch late in the fourth quarter when he started attacking the basket in an attempt to put the game but for the most part he played point forward and he provided a text book example of what it means to sacrifice for the great good of the team.
Dwyane Wade didn’t really show up in this game but it ended up not mattering because of Bosh’s scoring and James’ distributing. Wade took 17 shots to score 17 points and turned the ball over four times while dishing out just three assists. Wade’s nine rebounds helped the Heat get out on the break more than a few times but overall the Bulls did a great job shutting Wade down in this game.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, Wade was the only player they were able to contain consistently in this game while the Heat were the ones playing excellent defense. It’s not that Miami playing good defense should surprise you – they are a top three defensive team in the league – it’s just that Chicago being unable to stop Miami is a bit surprising, even if the Heat do have three stars.
Chicago scored just 100 points per 100 possessions in this game and only one player – Taj Gibson – made more than half of his shots. Derrick Rose was just eight-of-19 from the field. Rose continued to encounter trouble at the rim, reducing his effectiveness on offense, especially with Rose only getting to the free throw line three times in 39 minutes of play. Rose did have five assists and five rebounds but that wasn’t enough to make up for his inability to score efficiently.
Carlos Boozer had some stretches in this game where he was unstoppable with his mid-range jumper and he finished with an impressive 26 points to counter Bosh’s 34 to a degree but Boozer missed 11 of his 19 shots just like Rose did and almost any time Boozer had a chance to get a lay-up to go with an AND-1, the ball rolled off the rim. Boozer’s aggressiveness earned him 12 trips to the free throw line and his work on the glass paid off in the form of 17 rebounds (seven offensive) and it’s pretty easy to say that this was his best game of the post-season. But with Rose’s performance being more like Wade’s than LeBron’s the Bulls didn’t have enough firepower to match the Heat.
The Bulls got virtually nothing out of everyone else. Taj Gibson had 11 points on five-of-six shooting off the bench but had his troubles as well. Luol Deng scored 14 points but took 13 shots to do so. Kyle Korver made his only three point attempt of the game but only played 11 minutes because of foul trouble and defensive issues. And Joakim Noah, who was the heart and soul of the Bulls in their game one victory, had his second straight below average game, missing all four of his shots and committing five personal fouls. Noah did have six helpers but he only grabbed six rebounds because of his reduced playing time.
We’ve seen many times earlier this season that the Bulls are a deeper team than the Heat but if they aren’t getting enough production out of Derrick Rose it’s hard for their bench to make up the difference between Boozer and the Miami Big Three. Even though you can name almost anybody an “x-factor” in any series because anyone can win a game if they have a good night, the key to the rest of this series is clearly Derrick Rose. Rose has been bottled up by Miami’s swarming interior defense and if he can’t find a way to get to the stripe more or take advantage of Miami’s defense by making drop off passes, the Heat have a good chance to take this series.
And being up 2-1 doesn’t hurt either.