The Bosh Factor

The Miami HEAT are up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and they’ve had plenty of highlights along the way. They’ve turned the Boston Celtics around, crossed them over and spun them in transition, but that’s not why they’re winning. No, the HEAT are winning because they’re defending the Celtics into looking nothing at all like the fluid, harmonious offensive group they’re meant to be.

We can ascribe a number of reasons for this. Both Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers are doing well to keep Rajon Rondo on the perimeter while staying in front of him when he gathers forward momentum with the dribble. Dwyane Wade is chasing Ray Allen around screens and off the three-point line while LeBron James has been a swarm of havoc, helping and recovering every which way to prevent an easy look. Introduce Joel Anthony’s specific brand of chaos to the mixture and it’s easy to understand why Boston is shooting 42.9 percent and scoring barely over a point per possession.

But with the exception of Bibby – helping to hold Rajon Rondo to 40 percent shooting when he’s on the floor – nobody has been given less credit on the defensive end than Chris Bosh.

There’s an interesting phenomenon at play here. Because Bosh is shooting 4-of-12 on mid-range jumpers in this series, because he was swatted by Kevin Garnett on a late fourth-quarter block in Game 1, because the Celtics are already pushing your mind in the direction by emphasizing early Garnett-on-Bosh offense in the post, the assumption can be that that Garnett is beating himself, that the edge is his. At least through two games, it’s mythos over results.

Once again, our preconceptions are trumped by numbers and film both.

In the 63 minutes Garnett and Bosh have shared on the court, Garnett is shooting 36 percent with an offensive rating of 97.66 (points per 100 possessions). When Bosh is on the floor, Garnett is scoring four points in the paint per game with a PER of 7.78 despite a higher usage rate – using 16.8 percent of possessions to 15.4 percent when Bosh is in. Garnett is shooting 2-of-5 in the paint on non-point blank shots and, with the help of Miami’s help rotations, 5-of-18 from the mid-range, including post-up looks.

Bosh is outrebounding his opponent, 23-14. And Garnett hasn’t taken a single free-throw.

Statistics from NBA StatsCube

In such a small sample size, it’s impossible to rid ourselves of random noise and keep every statistic in context. But that’s why we have video. Video that shows us two things: that Bosh is playing feet-first defense, keeping his arms straight up in the post and forcing Garnett to shoot over the top, and that he isn’t sacrificing his other defensive duties, hedging on pick-and-rolls before recovering as Garnett spots-up. Not to mention the two alley-oops from Rondo which Bosh has sniffed out.

That video represents the bulk of Garnett’s offense on Bosh in the series thus far, with superfluous jumpers not primarily involving Bosh taken out. We did include Garnett’s makes, however, in order to illustrate one point: are those shot opportunities any better than those Garnett missed?

We should mention here that a similar, if shorter, video can be made of Anthony defending Garnett in the post, playing the same straight-up, fundamental, no-foul defense. If Garnett is making those shots, is the defense doing anything wrong? Not any more than it’s the defense’s fault when Wade or James crosses over into a step-back three and sinks a low-percentage shot.

“We try to give him as many contested shots as possible,” Bosh said after Game 2. “When he shoots a turnaround jump shot, over his head, fading away, he’s going to make some of them. For the most part, we did a pretty decent job.”

Our discussion would be incomplete if we didn’t shine the light on the other side of the court, where things aren’t quite as rosy. Bosh is scoring even fewer points in the paint per game than Garnett, he’s shooting 40 percent whether Garnett is on the court or not and his PER with Garnett on the floor is 11.94.

The HEAT, however, are not forcing offense through Bosh. They have tried to establish him early while trying to earn him more mismatches, and with the jumper not yet falling with consistency, the results are mixed. But because his scoring tends to come from open shots and free throws, not embarrassing highlights, the positives can get glossed over.

What Bosh has going for him more than anything is an upward trend. His 12 rebounds and defense in Game 1 were crucial, but he still shot 3-of-10, primarily taking 15-foot jumpers, and hesitated long enough in the paint for Garnett to block his shot. Game 2 was a new tale. Bosh shot 5-of-10, took 11 free throws, had four assists and two blocked shots while pulling in 11 boards. And he showed an ability to adapt, as you’ll see below, when, on two occasions, he seemed to realize his jumper was ineffective and chose to drive on his next touch.

There’s only one natural path for a discussion to go from here. Regardless of what has already happened, what we just spent a few minutes talking about, Bosh has never played on the road in the second round of the playoffs, much less in that situation at TD Garden. It’s a fair point. With intangibles at play, we cannot project Bosh’s play in Boston any more than we can Rondo’s game-to-game operations.

But this matchup is not Garnett’s by right of history or expectation. Bosh has stood tall on defense while showing more aggressiveness with the ball. If he maintains in a hostile environment, the narrative may tip in his favor. But if he does, let’s acknowledge the way he has played, defended, throughout the playoffs and not approach a performance as a one-game epiphany.

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