By Shandel Richardson, Sun Sentinel –
MIAMI — He can stop with the teeny, percentage-point improvement.
Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh recently said he was only 99 percent healthy. Each day afterward he steadily raised it, going from 99.1 to 99.2 percent.
Bosh proved he is fully back with his 19-point, eight-rebound performance Saturday in the series-clinching victory against the Boston Celtics. Now, the Heat have the unlikeliest of dilemmas.
To start Bosh or not?
As silly as it sounds to bring a seven-time All-Star off the bench, this may be debatable for their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals. Game 1 is Tuesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“You’ll have to ask Coach, but I doubt he’s on the bench,” forward James Jones said. “He’s a starter. He’s a guy that anchors us early in most of our games. Chris usually gets it going early. He’s a guy that equalizes other teams if they get off to a fast start. I expect him to be back in the starting lineup.”
Bosh came off the bench the past three games against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. The initial goal for coach Erik Spoelstra was slowly working Bosh back into the starting lineup after missing the previous nine games because of a strained lower abdominal muscle.
The Heat were 2-1 in Bosh’s return, winning the final two games to capture the series. Bosh was used as the “energy” player off the bench, often entering midway through the first quarter. It benefited the Heat similar to the way guard James Harden does for the Thunder.
Harden was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year and considered one of Oklahoma City’s top assets. Other top-tier teams also experimented with turning starters into reserves. The Celtics moved guard Ray Allen to the bench late in the season, while Manu Ginobili was a reserve for the San Antonio Spurs.
Although the Heat appear to have no plans of keeping Bosh in his current role, they say it doesn’t matter when he plays. Regardless, Bosh will play “starter” minutes in the Finals.
Bosh played all but 28 seconds in the fourth quarter in Game 7 against the Celtics.
“We’ve played some good ball,” forward LeBron James said of the past three games. “It doesn’t matter who starts or who finishes the game. James Harden doesn’t start, but he’s always on the court at the end of the game. (Dallas Mavericks guard) Jason Terry doesn’t start, but last year in the Finals he was in the fourth quarter every game. … It doesn’t matter who starts, or finishes the game, it’s who is being productive. That’s what it all boils down to.”
The matchups will likely call for Bosh to return to the starting lineup. The Heat were able to get away with using him as a reserve the previous series against the Celtics’ frontcourt of Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett.
The Heat will need Bosh’s length against the Thunder’s tandem of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Bosh said either role, as a starter or reserve, won’t affect his play.
“I’m going to have my time out there with certain lineups,” Bosh said. “That’s not going to change my approach and how I do things.”
What Bosh brings when in the lineup with James and guard Dwyane Wade is spacing. His ability to score away from the basket frees room in the lane for the Heat’s attacking players. Bosh took his perimeter game to another level when he made 3 of 4 3-pointers in the series-clincher against the Celtics.
None was bigger than the one from the corner he hit that put the Heat ahead 86-82 with seven minutes, 16 seconds. It was the highlight of the strongest performance he’s had since returning from the injury.
“I know it will surprise a lot of people, but I’ve been practicing those things all year,” Bosh said. “We’ve been getting a lot of shots up all year. We kind of knew in big-time situations that they were going to be open and I would be able to shoot it without hesitation.”