MIAMI -- The scene is still frustratingly fresh in Chris Bosh's mind.
Eager to take advantage of Al Jefferson hobbling on an injured foot, Bosh rocked Charlotte’s big man off balance with a shot fake on the perimeter, then zipped into the lane for an uncontested dunk midway through the Heat’s playoff opener Sunday against the Bobcats.
There was only one problem: Doink.
The ball banged off the back of the rim and bounced 20 feet into the air.
“I tried to tear the rim off and dunked it too hard,” Bosh recalled Tuesday as he summed up the latest mind-boggling moment of what’s personally been a difficult stretch. “I’m like, ‘Damn, how in the world did I miss that?’”
Bosh has asked himself that question a lot recently. And he’s hoping those sorts of inquiries start to come less frequently when the Heat try to take a 2-0 lead in the series Wednesday. Below the surface of the Heat’s 99-88 victory in Game 1 was another lackluster performance from the Heat’s starting center.
With what appeared to be a clear opportunity to take advantage of a Charlotte front line weakened by a severely limited Jefferson, who injured his left foot in the first quarter, Bosh instead blew a dunk attempt and squandered a chance to establish himself as a consistent force for the Heat.
Bosh missed nine of 13 shots, attempted four free throws, and finished with 13 points and four rebounds in 34 minutes. It was the continuation of what’s been a disturbing dip in production for the Heat’s third-leading scorer and most dynamic big man. Bosh has seen his scoring and shooting percentage drop each month since January, falling from a season-high 18.6 points on 55.1 percent shooting for the month of January to 14.1 points on 48.2 percent shooting in April (not counting the two-game month of October).
The biggest difference has been Bosh’s 3-point shooting, which was at a season-low 25.9 percent this month entering the playoffs. And his near season-low 5.3 rebounds in April (regular season) haven’t strengthened his case.
The two-time defending champion Heat will most likely be able to survive the first round of the playoffs even if Bosh doesn’t reverse his recent trend in this series. But Bosh, a nine-time All-Star, is aware of his predicament and spent extra time after Tuesday’s practice working on several aspects of his game with assistant coach David Fizdale.
“When you’re losing and you’re not playing well, it’s a little tougher,” Bosh said. “When you’re winning and you’re not playing as well, it’s like I don’t have to change anything drastically. I just have to make sure I really look at what I’m doing and see what I can do. When you’re losing, you’re just balling up the piece of paper [stat sheet] and throwing it in the trash, going back to the drawing board.”
Overall in the regular season, Bosh averaged 16.2 points, his lowest scoring average since his rookie season, and his 6.6 rebounds were also the fewest of his 11-year career. One stunning aspect of Bosh’s numbers this season is that it seems he was unable to take better advantage of the 28 games Dwyane Wade missed to rest or recover from various injuries.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra suggested there are a number of factors that have contributed to the inconsistent play, ranging from the team having to use 21 different starting lineups to Bosh taking on more defensive responsibilities on the perimeter this season than he’s been accustomed to in the past. But Spoelstra also said he refuses to get too caught up in the numbers game with Bosh.
Spoelstra pointed to the defensive versatility Bosh showed in Game 1 by defending speedy Bobcats guard Kemba Walker and then switching back to Jefferson on pick-and-roll sets.
“I know everybody wants to just look at the points and the shots and the field goal percentage, but he was an incredible anchor for us defensively,” Spoelstra said of Bosh. “They run 40-plus pick-and-rolls with Walker. Chris is going to be involved in 25 of those or more. You have to have bigs who can be able to cover ground and then get back and battle with Jefferson. It’s not a one-on-one battle. So he was outstanding with his multiple efforts. Offensively, yes, he has to continue to strike that balance to be able to facilitate for us, space the floor for us and be aggressive. He’ll figure it out. I’m not concerned.”
Spoelstra said he believes Bosh will settle back into a comfortable rhythm offensively as the Heat get to a more standard and consistent rotation in the playoffs. But that wasn’t necessarily the case in Game 1, because Miami extended its rotation and used 10 players by the midway point of the second quarter. Continuity and consistency have been obstacles for both Bosh and the Heat the past two months.
Miami went 11-14 over its final 25 games of the regular season, with Wade missing nearly half those contests and both Bosh and James sitting out the final week of the season to regroup for the playoffs. During that stretch, Bosh had just one game since Feb. 23 of at least 10 rebounds, and just one game of 20 or more points since March 18.
LeBron James isn't worried too much about Bosh. James, who had 27 points and nine rebounds Sunday, said it took some time to work himself back into a rhythm after missing a week of games. James also said it was encouraging to see Wade, who had 23 points in 34 minutes, respond with his best game in nearly a month after recently overcoming a hamstring injury.
Now, it’s only a matter of time for Bosh.
“He’s missed some pretty good looks the last couple of games and we look forward to getting him back in rhythm,” James said Tuesday after standing courtside to watch Bosh put in the extra work after practice. “Obviously, when C.B. is playing on top of his game -- D-Wade has looked like he’s back and I’m going to try to do my part to help us win -- then we’ll be even more dynamic and even more dangerous.”
Or at least dangerous enough to complete an uncontested dunk.
“I think I’m in a good place,” Bosh said. “I’m getting the shots that I want. I’m involved in the offense. It’s just on me to make them. Our last game, I had some misses. I missed a dunk, missed a couple of easy ones. But that’s going to happen with the change of pace a little bit. I won’t worry about that. But like I say, balance is balance. So there will be a [stretch] where I can’t miss.”
Bosh said it’s in times like these when he relishes the off days and moments away from the court, when he takes his mind completely off the game and focuses on family and other important aspects of his life. He plays games with his young children or sneaks away to a movie for a much-needed diversion.
Then, it’s back to work. He understands and accepts the highs and lows that come with his existence in Miami. One such high came in last year’s NBA Finals, when he grabbed the most important rebound of the season and passed to Ray Allen for a miraculous 3-pointer that helped win Game 6 against the Spurs. But in Game 7, Bosh went scoreless, though the Heat still won and claimed their second straight title. His rough night on offense didn’t exactly ruin the taste of postgame champagne in the Heat’s locker room.
Having dealt with his own case of plantar fasciitis that knocked him out of the 2007 USA team training camp, Bosh knows what Jefferson is feeling right now as he battles through his injury. The plan for Bosh is to take advantage of Jefferson’s limited mobility and continue to attack. But the challenge is to do so without disrupting the team’s system. Bosh must find the balance between establishing himself and getting into a comfort zone, while also being patient for those opportunities.
“That’s always been my job, and it’s been difficult,” Bosh said. “But I find a way to get it done. I’m going to pick and choose my spots, get to those spots, and try to make Al work as much as possible when I’m at [center]. And when I’m at [power forward], just try to make sure we get the spacing and get to the second and third situations. And if I’m open, be aggressive and take my shots. Hopefully in Game 2, I can come out the gates swinging a little more if the ball finds me. And really establish myself early.”