While Dwyane Wade takes a lighthearted approach to the swirling criticism ("We're the best 5-4 team in the league!") and LeBron James jots down mental notes, Chris Bosh's mood when he responds to questions about what's going wrong in Miami is almost confessional. He readily acknowledges an offense anchored by Wade and James presents all kinds of challenges for a big man accustomed to be spoon-fed the ball, and that, so far, he hasn't responded terribly well to those demands. He also knows he hasn't been sufficiently aggressive as a rebounder or defender.
Funny thing is, the more individual blame Bosh is willing to shoulder, the louder and more persistent the incoming fire. We generally value accountability from athletes, but Bosh's contrition seems to invite even more scrutiny and ridicule.
Rajon Rondo was in town on Thursday night and the story of his young season provided a useful parallel. While Rondo has little to be sorry for -- he's averaging nearly 15 assists in 40 minutes per game -- the Celtics' point guard apologizes for nothing. He barks at teammates whose tactical judgment he questions and dismisses questions from journalists he deems silly. He's an imperfect player with an iffy jump shot, yet Rondo manages to leverage his weakness. All that open space he's given as defenses play off him? Rondo uses it to punish opponents. He devours the court to get his teammates' clean looks at the basket and himself close-range shots.
Even on a night when he scores about half as many points as Bosh, Rondo left his very large imprint all over the game. Bosh's contributions on Thursday night were real, but his performance suggested there's still a confidence deficit. Bosh isn't saddled with anything remotely as debilitating as Rondo's shaky jumper. His talents demand the full attention of defenses everywhere on the floor, but there's something holding him back right now. Bosh and Erik Spoelstra believe it's a lack of familiarity with teammates and a new system. It could be. Playing, practicing and living with the same core has undoubtedly helped Rondo grow into the kind of point guard who sets the agenda for a game.
But there's something else, a quality less measurable, but in many ways more perceptible. Anyone who watched the first half of last night's game saw it.
Every once in a while, there's a rare moment between the lines that exquisitely captures the dynamics at play outside them. On Thursday night it happened in the first quarter when Rondo used a high screen from Glen Davis to dart into the paint. It was one of those snapshots in a basketball game when circumstances require a player to summon their instinct to make a play. The breakdown on the Heat's pick-and-roll defense didn't originate with Bosh, but he had the responsibility to correct it. And barring that, he was presented with an opportunity to make some sort of statement.