Chris Bosh comes up huge on big stage

Chris BoshAP Photo/Elise Amendola

Chris Bosh had a shaky first half. After intermission, he proved to be the best big man on the floor.

After tipping in LeBron James’ missed jumper to push Game 4 in Boston out of reach with 24.2 seconds left in overtime, Chris Bosh unleashed a celebratory yell toward the Miami Heat's bench as he ran down the floor.

It was the loudest exhale of his career.

For the entire season, Bosh has absorbed criticism from every direction and the outside noise was getting to him. He admitted as much at the Heat’s practice. The barbs fired at Bosh questioned everything from his game to his toughness.

He’s too soft to hang with the big boys, they say. He can’t play a lick of defense. Kevin Garnett is in his head. He has never won anything of note. He floats on the coattails of LeBron and Dwyane Wade.

But when LeBron’s shot bounced off the rim with less than 30 seconds left and the Heat up only three points, the Heat desperately needed Bosh to come through. And Bosh rose to the occasion, boxing out Ray Allen underneath and getting his left hand on the ball, just before Jeff Green could swoop in for the rebound, to give Miami a five-point lead.

“There has been so much discussion about Chris,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after a 98-90 win over the Celtics in Game 4. “I continue to remind him [that] he doesn’t have to answer to anyone’s critics [and] expectations.”

By pushing it to a two-possession game with 24 seconds remaining, Bosh closed the door on the Celtics -- and perhaps Boston’s rule over the East.

Bosh’s reaction after the tip-in may have been a little over the top for some. The fist pump may have been a little too dramatic. The scream may have been a few seconds too long.

But this was his moment, and he wanted to extend it as long as possible.

“Honestly, that kind of emotion I think is always needed,” Bosh said. “It’s just how I felt at the time. It’s just so intense just going through that whole time. You’re tired, you’re into it, but it was a one-possession game up to that point and that kind of gave us a little bit of a cushion at the time.”

Bosh wasn’t the only one celebrating. Wade, too, gave a fist-pump of his own after the play.

“He had the biggest rebound of the game with that tip-in,” Wade said after the game.

The putback was just one of Bosh’s 12 rebounds in Game 4, and two of his 20 points on the night. But the biggest takeaway from Bosh’s performance has little to do with his stat line. It was the responsibility that Spoelstra assigned to the 6-foot-10, 230-pound center.

Spoelstra entrusted Bosh to be the Heat’s last line of defense as the team’s center during the most crucial minutes of the season. Such a responsibility would have been unthinkable eight months ago. After all, Bosh was the All-Star anchor on some of the worst defensive teams in recent NBA history during his Toronto tenure.

But Bosh was Miami's sole big man in the game for all but 20 seconds of the fourth quarter and overtime. Over that time, the Celtics mustered just 17 points.

Seventeen points in 20 minutes with Bosh playing center.

“To be successful he has to understand that he can’t just make an impact on the game offensively,” Wade said. “No matter what goes on he must have an impact on the game defensively and rebounding the ball. We said going into the game, and Coach said as well, we need 12 rebounds from Chris, and he got 12 rebounds.”

To hear the Heat laud Bosh’s contributions was a bit stunning considering how terrible Bosh started out Monday’s game. He opened it shooting 1-for-6, the same mark that he recorded in Game 3. After saying on Sunday that nerves got the best of him in Game 3, Bosh appeared to have been swallowed by the moment yet again.

But instead of folding up like a lawn chair as he did the game prior, Bosh clamped down in the second half, gobbling up rebound after rebound on the defensive end while mixing in turnaround fadeaways against Garnett.

When Celtics coach Doc Rivers sent out center Jermaine O’Neal to start the fourth quarter, Spoelstra called on Bosh to play the 5, a position Bosh wasn’t comfortable with earlier in the season. But on Monday, Bosh manned the middle for the rest of the game -- against Garnett, no less.

“He really stood up to the challenge,” Wade said. “That shows a lot of growth from Chris, and he put a little bit more on himself with his comment, and I like to see the way he responded.”

We’ve seen Wade and LeBon rise to the occasion in the postseason before, but Bosh hasn’t had many of those opportunities in his career. After all, this is his first trip past the opening round of the playoffs, and we’re waiting for him to write his own script. In Monday’s Game 4, Bosh left no doubt who was the best big man on the floor.

“You just have to believe in yourself and have confidence because nobody else is gonna give it to you,” Bosh said. “You know, you just have to go take it.”