SAN ANTONIO — Chris Bosh might have had a poster on his wall of Tim Duncan while growing up. But he hasn’t been standing around and admiring Duncan during the NBA Finals.
He’s been holding his own.
The Miami Heat center was mostly ordinary in his team’s Eastern Conference finals win over the Indiana Pacers. Before Game 7, he said he had apologized to his teammates for his play and then that night showed signs of turning matters around.
His improved play has continued against San Antonio in The Finals, which are tied 2-2 entering Sunday’s pivotal Game 5 at the AT&T Center. Bosh is averaging 14.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.75 blocks and 2.25 steals, numbers on par with the 15.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 0.25 steals that Duncan is putting up.
In Thursday’s 109-93 win by the Heat in Game 4, Bosh had 20 points, 13 rebounds, two blocks and two steals. It was his second-best game of the postseason, behind only a 20-point, 19-board outing in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Chicago.
“I don’t know really what the difference has been with Chris,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday about Bosh’s rebounding, which has included three straight games in double digits. “All we know is we need it. And (Thursday) night, he played all his minutes at the center, where we needed it even more.”
Bosh’s rebounding often has been a mystery. He’s capable of huge nights on the boards, having also grabbed 14 in Game 3 of a first-round series against Milwaukee. But this postseason he’s had too many nights in which he wasn’t aggressive.
Several came in the Indiana series. Bosh averaged a paltry 3.7 boards in the first six games. Then, after having revealed his apology before Game 7, he grabbed eight, all in the first half when the game still was close.
True, the Pacers have big, physical post guys Roy Hibbert and David West, who caused Bosh problems. But Duncan and Spurs center Tiago Splitter are imposing in their own right and they haven’t bothered Bosh nearly as much.
“I don’t really pay too much attention to the numbers,” Bosh, who averaged 16.6 points and 6.8 rebounds during the regular season, said about his big game Thursday. “It’s just how I’m doing, the energy and effort that I’m giving out here and everything else falls into place. I always believe that if I bring the necessary energy, things will go well. I want to play well every game. I want to play to the best of my ability. And sometimes that doesn’t happen.”
Winston Churchill once called Russia “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Sometimes that’s the case with Bosh, who is an eight-time All-Star but doesn’t perform with the consistency of a player with that kind of résumé.
Bosh was the man while with Toronto from 2003-10, regularly putting up 20-and-10 games. But since joining LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Miami before the 2010-11 season, he’s struggled at times to find his niche.
Bosh usually has to take a back seat with his scoring. And this season, after being moved from power forward to center, the wiry 6-foot-11, 235-pounder often has had to battle much bigger players, which can affect his rebounding.
“For this to work, we had to put him in situations that are out of the box and would open the door for easy criticism from the outside,” said Spoelstra, who got 85 points out of his Big Three in Game 4, with James scoring 33 and Wade 32. “Everybody wants to put him in a conventional box of being a back-end center and provide that type of post game for us. But in reality he has to do so many other versatile things for us to make this thing work. … He has to wear a lot of different hats for us to be successful.”
Bosh’s performance Thursday was pivotal because the Heat went to a small lineup by replacing power forward Udonis Haslem with swingman Mike Miller. So Bosh often was the only true post player in the game for Miami.
“I have more situations in the pick-and-roll,” said Bosh, who shot 5 of 6 in the second half to finish 8 of 14. “I was able to get in the paint a lot more. I think it really opened up my game a little bit. The jumper wasn’t there in the first half, but it came eventually.”
Though inconsistency has been a nagging problem for Bosh, it hasn’t been an issue against the Spurs. In five regular-season games against them while with the Heat, he’s averaged an impressive 23.6 points and 11.0 rebounds.
Bosh hasn’t ever seemed in awe of Duncan since joining the Heat. He even baited the Spurs legend into an offensive foul in the second quarter Thursday, although Bosh ended up being fined $5,000 by the NBA on Friday for flopping.
Flopping against a player he grew up admiring? Bosh is showing those days of adulation are long past.