30 minutes, 7 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1-for-6 shooting. That was Chris Bosh’s feckless statline in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. What is going on with the 8-time All-Star? How can we explain the disappearance of the Heat’s $17 million-per-year big man both offensively and on the glass?
Bosh’s disappearance on offense
This season, 67% of Bosh’s field goal attempts were jumpshots, as the Heat coaching staff embraced an offensive system founded on a spread floor with no big men clogging LeBron and Wade’s driving lanes in the paint. Bosh’s 4.4 free throw attempts per game—half the number he shot during his final season as a Raptor—confirm his full-time conversion to a perimeter-oriented player. And though his production and usage rate dipped to their lowest levels since his second year in the league, Bosh’s efficiency soared as he shot a career-high 53.5% from the field. Establishing himself as perhaps the best big-man jumpshooter in the NBA, Bosh shot over 50% on mid-range jumpers from the right elbow, left elbow, AND the top of the key.
Throughout the playoffs, the Heat have attempted to use Bosh’s range to pull opposing big men away from the paint and make it more difficult for them to help on LeBron and Wade. They have stretched the plan to a greater extreme against the Pacers, utilitising Bosh as a 3-point threat. Bosh and Wade have run a 3-point pick-and-pop with success; see HERE and HERE. Bosh is 6-for-12 from beyond the arc for the series—the most threes he has shot over any 4-game stretch of his career.
The Heat need to re-adjust, though, to get Bosh going. On most of their possessions in Game 4, he was stood stationary outside the 3-point arc playing no active part in the offense:
Bosh was not involved in a Heat play within 20 feet of the basket until the 2:43 mark of the 2nd quarter, when he set a decoy back-screen for Wade and caught a LeBron pass at the elbow, a place from which he is comfortable attacking the basket (and, in this case, drawing a foul). The Heat need to make a concerted effort to involve Bosh in more plays like this.
In the second half, they did not run a single play for Bosh inside the 3-point line. Deploying him as a glorified Steve Novak stationed 23 feet from the hoop is a waste of his considerable and diverse offensive talents. Certainly, some of this is on Bosh. He must remain aggressive and take opportunities to attack and involve himself in pick-and-rolls when the offense slows down, as he did in the pivotal Game 3 of the Chicago series when he put up a 20-point, 19-rebound game, his best of the postseason. Expect the Heat to feature him more aggressively in Game 5.
Bosh’s disappearance on the glass
Though Bosh’s preference has never been to bang with big bodies in the paint, he averaged double figures in rebounding three different times in his seven seasons in Toronto, and grabbed 6.8 per game this season. Why has this number been cut in half this series?
We must recognize that Indiana presents an awkward matchup for Bosh. At 6’11” and a wiry 235 pounds, he is simply no physical match for the Pacers’ 7’2”, 280-pound Roy Hibbert, one of the few true centers in today’s game, and the Pacers’ MVP in this series with three 20-point, 10-rebound games out of four. Bosh’s game has always been built more on finesse than low-post strength, and both defensively and on the glass, Bosh is exerting a huge amount of energy contesting Hibbert for position in the paint.
In some cases, Bosh is resorting to face-guarding Hibbert on box-outs, leaving the responsibility of grabbing the ball to his teammates but making sure that Hibbert doesn’t get his hands on it.
On two crucial plays down the stretch in Game 4, however, Bosh was unable to prevent the Georgetown product from corralling the offensive rebound.
On this play with 2:46 left he was simply outmuscled. It is difficult to blame Bosh for this. He is who he is, and unless he spends some serious time in the weight room (in turn losing some of his quickness), he will never come out of top in this sort of below-the-basket tussle. And on this play—effectively the game-decider—with 1:31 left, he failed to follow up his own strong defense on Hibbert by crashing the glass on the miss. The ball did however take an unusual bounce off Mario Chalmers, who failed in his own rebounding duties.
Perhaps the most egregious Bosh failure on the glass was this one in the 3rd quarter, where he was caught napping and failed to box out David West, who faked him out and drew the foul. But isolated plays like this are par for the course with Bosh, whose singular focus has never been this side of the ball.
However, part of the problem has also been Bosh’s lack of offensive rebounds. Bosh averages more than two offensive boards per game for his career; in this series, he has just two, total, in four games. In Games 2 and 3, he had consecutive zero offensive rebound performances—only the second time Bosh has done so in 202 games dating back to Feb. 22, 2011. Much of this can be put down to his positioning on offense.
Bosh is in no position to contest for a rebound if LeBron misses this shot:
…Or if Haslem misses this shot:
Despite his subpar stats, we should pause before scapegoating Bosh for the Heat’s relative struggles.
We cannot hold his lack of offensive boards against him. If he gets closer to the basket on offense, he will pick up a few—and get more involved offensively in the process. The Heat must help him do so. The defensive boards are a more murky issue, but the game footage shows that his slight frame and the unavoidably difficult matchup are as much to blame as any general lack of effort on his part. That is to say that there is no easy fix. Perhaps Erik Spoelstra will consider playing Joel Anthony—a bigger body more accustomed to doing the dirty work—to counteract Hibbert in the paint if his offensive rebounds continue to be the story in Game 5.