MIAMI (AP) — The last time Chris Bosh played against the San Antonio Spurs, he was offensively brilliant.
It seems like a long time ago.
During the Eastern Conference finals, Bosh found himself in a baffling slump, missing 26 of his last 34 shots and not even reaching the double-digit mark in scoring during any of his last four games — the longest such drought for the All-Star big man since a five-game streak that began during the first week of his NBA career.
All that, he hopes, will be forgotten now. A new series has arrived, and the stakes couldn’t be higher when Bosh and the Miami Heat begin taking on the Spurs in the NBA Finals, with Game 1 set for Thursday night.
“My confidence never goes anywhere,” Bosh said. “It never wavers. It’s always the same. I feel that I’m always capable of playing well. This is a different circumstance. I take it as that, and I move on.”
That’s exactly what the Heat want to hear from their starting center.
For three years now, the Heat — who have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the roster — have routinely insisted that Bosh is Miami’s most important player. And against a Spurs team that has a consummate big man in Tim Duncan, along with a combination of size and athleticism that can easily give any opponent fits, the Heat will surely need help from Bosh if they’re to successfully defend their title.
“I like the way he left off last series,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Very comfortable. He looked comfortable. Even though he didn’t necessarily convert a lot of his makes, it was more similar to his game. And he’s proven it before that one series doesn’t dictate necessarily what happens the next series, particularly when match-ups and styles of play are different.”
Bosh scored nine points in the Game 7 win over Indiana, his best total in the final four games of that series. He shot 1 for 6 in Game 4, 3 for 7 in Game 5, 1 for 8 in Game 6 and then 3 for 13 in the final game of the East title matchup.
That’s 28 points, total, in four games. He’s scored at least that many on 106 single-game occasions in his career.
A quick start in Game 1 of the finals is what Bosh is looking for now, if for no other reason than to forget what he’s been dealing with of late.
“We always want to be aggressive individually and as a team,” Bosh said. “You know, I want to really get going early offensively in games, because it helps me, we play better, I think I play better. Just coming out being aggressive and just really looking for my spots that establishes me early. And I think it propels me for the rest of the game.”
The irony here is that while Bosh is in the worst offensive slump of his season — and most significant one of his career, arguably — is that when Miami visited San Antonio on March 31, he was an offensive fireplug.
With James and Wade sitting out that night because of injuries, Bosh was the No. 1 option, all the way to the end. And the Heat pulled off an 88-86 victory when Bosh made a 3-pointer over Tim Duncan with about a second remaining, capping what was a 23-point night.
Bosh had 23 points in his very next game as well. He’s gotten to the 20-point mark — and it was exactly 20 — only one time in his 19 appearances since.
“I spent a lot of time with Chris in his house. We’re neighbors,” Wade said, beginning to tell a story of how he and Bosh spent the night before Game 7 of the Indiana series. “And I told him, I said, `Chris, it didn’t matter if you scored 30 points a game up until this point. If you get in Game 7 and score two points and we lose, you’ll feel just as bad or worse than you feel now. So it’s all about Game 7, man. It’s all about this moment. Let’s do whatever we can.'”
Bosh made two big jumpers during a critical stretch of Game 7, as the Heat started pulling away toward what became a rout.
The stat sheet says he didn’t do much else, but the Heat would argue otherwise.
“He was playing with a great motor … and that energy was contagious for everybody,” Spoelstra said.
The beauty of being on the Heat is that no one has to carry the load alone, a lesson that Bosh was reminded of during — and even after — Game 7 of the East finals.
During the on-court trophy presentation, players got T-shirts and caps to wear in commemoration of the East title. Bosh tugged his shirt on over his jersey, then plopped the cap onto his head while scooping up his two young children in either arm. So when the brim of the cap dipped over his eyes, he asked someone nearby to adjust it because he didn’t want to put either of his kids down and free up a hand to do it himself.
Same goes on the court. If Bosh’s shot is struggling, someone nearby will try to help him out. But if his shot is going — like when he averaged 15.8 points during Miami’s four wins over Oklahoma City in last year’s finals — then the Heat will be tough to beat.
“We have to play well as a team, play well inside our system,” Bosh said. “And the team that plays the best series is going to win.”