Bosh rising to the Garnett challenge

Chris Bosh and Kevin GarnettAP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Chris Bosh has held his own -- and then some -- against the Celtics' Kevin Garnett.

BOSTON -- Chris Bosh knows when it’s coming.

They warn him from the bench, his teammates point in his direction and an elbow often lands in his chest. There are very few secrets in a playoff series, and there’s also little room to hide.

There’s a spotlight on the Miami Heat forward in this series with the Boston Celtics. Not so much from the fans, reporters or television broadcasts as much as the one within the game, in which the Celtics have chosen to pick on what they believe could be the weak link in the Heat’s big three. A significant part of the game plan has been to attack Bosh with Kevin Garnett as often as possible, clearly an indication that the Celtics feel they have an advantage.

But here is the thing: So far it’s not working. Bosh isn’t just holding his own against Garnett, as the Heat hoped for at the start of the series, he’s winning the battle. The Heat are up 2-0, in part thanks to him.

“Chris has been very effective for us and he’s been helping us win,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s doing it in different ways. His defensive intensity really has solidified our team defense.”

In the first two games, the Celtics repeatedly targeted Bosh by throwing the ball into Garnett, believing he can get off a good shot. At the very least, they feel that Bosh will need help and, when the Heat bring an extra defender, Garnett will find the weak spot to create shots for his teammates. It’s plain to see, Garnett has played the most minutes and taken the most shots for the Celtics as he’s worked against Bosh.

But Bosh is scoring more, rebounding more and shooting better. Bosh’s one-on-one defense on Garnett has been remarkably sound, often forcing Garnett off his favorite spots and preventing him from getting clean looks.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Garnett is shooting just 36 percent while Bosh has been guarding him in the two games. And Bosh has been able to do it without fouling. Garnett has yet to make a single trip to the foul line, perhaps the most shocking stat of the first two games.

“[Garnett] has so many weapons: He can shoot with both hands, he can back you down, he can get where he wants to go,” Bosh said. “His release is so high you’re not going to block his shots. I just have to make sure I don’t let him catch where he wants to.”

It’s hard to predict it will stay that way with Garnett, a fierce competitor, and the Celtics now playing with their backs to the wall as they return home for Game 3 on Saturday night. But then, it was hard to foresee how the first two games have played out at the power forward spot.

The Heat know the Celtics’ plays. They know, when point guard Rajon Rondo sticks his fist in the air, the ball is usually coming into Garnett in the post. The Heat bench and his teammates yell to Bosh to prepare him. This isn’t unusual -- it has been a central part of the Celtics’ offense since Garnett arrived in 2007. When Bosh played for the Toronto Raptors, Garnett did it many, many times.

Because of Garnett’s regular success against Bosh, who used to be part of the worst defensive team in the league in Toronto, most observers chalked up the matchup in Garnett’s favor before the series began. The final grades, of course, aren’t in yet, which is one of the reasons the Heat aren’t thrilled anyone is giving Bosh credit -- at least not yet.

“We don’t look at it as a one-on-one matchup; it is easy to fall into that mindset, and I don’t want Chris thinking like that,” Spoelstra said. “We haven’t done anything that has been special in this series, other than winning our first two home games.”

Bosh is attempting to adopt that mindset. He admitted that going into the series he wasn’t completely sure what to expect, never having previously played in the second round of the playoffs. His inexperience at this level might have been one of the reasons the Celtics felt attacking him at the defensive end would be prudent. It is not in the Celtics’ nature to change their game plan, which means the Garnett assignment is going to remain a huge challenge for Bosh. While his start has given him a comfort level, he’s expecting it to only get more challenging.

“I’ve started to get a feel for him and where he’s getting the ball,” Bosh said. “But we’ve played them at home the last three times. But I’m sure it’ll be a little different [in Game 3] because he’ll have that home swagger. We’ll have to be prepared for it.”