Miami's Margin Of Error Becomes Nil Without Bosh
When the Miami Heat were able to defeat the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 despite losing Chris Bosh in the first half, it reinforced the popular notion of Bosh as a “soft” and somewhat superfluous player in South Beach. However, while he’s not as good as either one of the Heat’s superstars, his absence leaves a gaping hole in Miami’s frontcourt rotation.
Bosh, who shoots 41% from outside of the paint, is the only one of the Heat’s big men whom other teams have to respect from the perimeter. Joel Anthony (35%) and Ronny Turiaf (27%) are extremely limited offensively, while Udonis Haslem (36%) is wearing down as he enters his early thirties.
When Bosh isn’t on the floor, defenses can run a de-facto zone and station both of their big men in the paint. There aren’t many two-way 6’11+ forwards in the NBA who can challenge defenses out to 20+ feet; that’s what Erik Spoelstra means when he says that Bosh is the Heat’s "most irreplaceable" player.
Because LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are inconsistent three-point shooters, floor spacing is always at a premium for Miami. And since both are most effective taking the ball to the rim, they need good shooters surrounding them to create driving lanes. There’s a lot of overlap between their skill-sets; Bosh is more effective next to LeBron than Wade and vice versa.
Without him, the Heat’s conventional line-ups don’t have enough perimeter shooting. In Game 2, line-ups which featured any combination of Anthony, Haslem and Turiaf on the floor were a combined -12. When either Wade or LeBron had the ball, there would be three non-shooters surrounding them, and the lack of floor spacing killed Miami.
Spoelstra quickly made the obvious adjustment: going small with LeBron at power forward and only one big man in the game. Of course, LeBron, at 6’9, 275 with a 7’0 wingspan, is a “small” in name only. He’s bigger and faster than David West (6’9, 240), Tyler Hansbrough (6’9 250) or Lou Amundson (6’9 225).
However, moving him out of the small forward position exposes some of the holes in Miami’s rotation. The Heat are extremely thin on the perimeter behind their stars: none of their role players can effectively create their own shot and they all depend on Wade and LeBron to spoon-feed them offense.
Shane Battier and Mike Miller, both in their thirties, are essentially spot-up shooters at this point in their careers, while James Jones has always been one since he entered the NBA. Mario Chalmers doesn’t have the burst to beat his man off the dribble and Norris Cole is a raw rookie point guard who averages nearly as many turnovers (1.6) as assists (2.0) per game. Cole is the only of the five with a usage rating above 20.
So not only is LeBron playing out of position in Bosh’s absence, he’s also shouldering a huge burden on nearly every possession. He basically has to be Superman, which he is capable of doing.
Indiana, meanwhile, is exactly the type of team LeBron traditionally destroys. The formula for defeating LeBron in the playoffs starts with an athletic 6’10+ big man who can protect the rim: Rasheed Wallace (2006), Tim Duncan (2007), Kevin Garnett (2008, 2010), Dwight Howard (2009) and Tyson Chandler (2011). Neither West nor Hibbert, while skilled, fits that description.
That doesn’t mean the second round series will be easy, as Miami now has almost no margin for error. With both Wade (8-for-22) and LeBron (10-for-22) struggling from their field, they didn’t have quite enough offense to pull out a win in Game 2.
LeBron played the entire second half and received only a five-minute breather in the first, which won’t be enough rest if he’s going to have to spend a significant amount of time wrestling in the paint with the Pacers big men. At the age of 27 and with nine NBA seasons on his legs, he’s no longer a young man.
As the series continues, Wade will need to carry a bigger load offensively, despite being in more situations without either LeBron or Bosh on the floor. And while his jumper has been extremely shaky, his 6’11 wingspan makes him an effective low-post scorer, something he will need to utilize against Indiana’s smaller guards.
If both Wade and LeBron play at at All-NBA level, Miami will be able to survive Bosh’s absence and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. But if they don’t, 2012 could resemble 1999’s wide-open road to an NBA championship.