Chris Bosh steps into the maelstrom

Chris Boshteve Mitchell/US Presswire

Chris Bosh returned and had an immediate impact in Game 5, but was not in the game late.

MIAMI -- Chris Bosh knew he would be stepping into a potentially difficult situation when he returned from a three-week absence in the middle of the conference finals after recovering from a strained abdominal muscle.

But it has to be tough to stomach the sobering reality facing him and the Miami Heat right now.

“With everything going on, life happens,” Bosh said after Tuesday's 94-90 loss to the Boston Celtics that pushed the Heat into a 3-2 series hole and on the brink of elimination in the Eastern Conference finals. “You just have to move forward and do as best as possible.”

Bosh, the Heat's All-Star center, returned to action Tuesday after missing the previous nine playoff games with the injury he sustained May 13 in Game 1 of the conference seminal series against the Indiana Pacers. The loss to Boston only added to what already was a heavy emotional burden for Bosh, who played Tuesday's game just one day after the masseuse who aided in his recovery collapsed in his Miami Beach home Monday and later died in a hospital.

Before Tuesday's game, Bosh and his wife issued a statement offering condolences. An hour after releasing the statement through the Heat's media relations staff, Bosh was on the court trying to work through the rust in what could prove to be the most pivotal game of Miami's season.

The past two days have essentially been a microcosm of Bosh's season with the Heat, especially the second half of it. Since the All-Star break, Bosh has experienced highs and lows that have ranged from leaving the team in early March to mourn the death of his grandmother to flying back and forth between Miami and New York during the Heat's first-round series against the Knicks to attend the birth of his son.

Then came the abdominal injury that knocked him out of the second round of the playoffs, followed by an aggressive and determined stretch of rehab to get back on his feet in hopes of helping Miami push past Boston and on to the NBA Finals for the second consecutive season.

For every breakthrough moment, there seems to have been a devastating bump in the road along the way. Basketball was supposed to be his getaway. And now this series against the Celtics could be on the verge of getting away from the Heat and ending their season short of an NBA championship yet again if they don't win Game 6 in Boston on Thursday and Game 7 back in Miami on Saturday.

“It's been some year for me, but basketball is my sanctuary,” Bosh said after finishing with 9 points and 7 rebounds in 14 minutes Tuesday. “It's something I can use to get away from everything. So to be back out there, just to put my uniform on in the warmups and to be involved in the game in some kind of way physically, it was good for me.”

Bosh's play in the first half helped to spark the Heat to a 24-16 lead at the end of the first quarter. He made his first basket on a short turnaround jumper with 2:19 left in the quarter and converted a traditional three-point play a minute later to push Miami's lead to 11. His aggressiveness on offense is something the Heat had been lacking in his absence against the Celtics, who have dominated the paint behind the rejuvenated play of Kevin Garnett.

Bosh's return -- even in limited doses -- was expected to bring balance to a Heat offense that had been stagnant against the Celtics for extended stretches in the previous two games. Boston had effectively slowed the Heat by double-teaming Dwyane Wade, usually by cheating off a Heat big who wasn't an offensive threat.

Initially, Bosh changed that dynamic by looking to score but missed five of his eight shots from the field. He did show some struggles to move laterally on defense and couldn't keep up with Garnett in his second stint of the game. Garnett had 18 of his team-high 26 points in the second half and grabbed 11 boards.

“I think coach did a good job of trying to not overdo it," Wade said of coach Erik Spoelstra's handling of Bosh. "Obviously, we would have loved for him to stay out there but you can't overdo it on his first time back. We saw some good things, so I'm sure he will play a lot more next game.”

Bosh said he was surprised that he played only three minutes in the second half and not at all in the fourth quarter, especially at times when the Heat failed to execute on offense.

“I didn't think it would necessarily be fair to him to throw him in with three minutes to go,” Spoelstra said of Bosh, who went into the game with the plan of playing only limited minutes in short spurts. “But I thought he gave us some good minutes. I think that's something we can build on. He felt good physically afterward. That's a good sign.”

Bosh said he'll be ready for a bigger role when the Heat try to keep their season alive Thursday in Boston.

“There's no reason to dwell on it, think about it a lot,” Bosh said of potential distractions. “We have to go to Boston and win. We have to do whatever it takes to get that done. You know, we're in this situation now, so hopefully next time in Game 6 when it comes to crunch time, I'll be out there with my guys.”