Space Odyssey

How Chris Bosh Opened the Paint In Game 4

Chris Bosh
Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon

For the first time in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Miami HEAT didn’t get outscored by the Indiana Pacers in the first quarter. Instead, in the 22 minutes that Roy Hibbert was on the court, the HEAT outscored the Pacers by 23 points. The reasons for this were threefold.

Firstly, and most simply, the HEAT didn’t turn the ball over. After languishing in a turnover-prone turmoil, throwing the ball out of bounds or directly to the other team early on in Game 1 and Game 3, the HEAT had full possessions to work with.

Secondly, the team – especially LeBron James, who had before the game remarked that he needed to change his approach and not work his way into the flow of things – was as engaged and locked in on defense in the first quarter since perhaps the opening period against the Chicago Bulls after receiving their championship rings.

For the first time in a long time, the Omega Swarm was there right out of the chute.

Reason No. 3 for the 27-19 quarter, including a 10-2 run to start the game?

“Chris Bosh,” James said, matter of factly. “We got off to that fast start because Chris Bosh came out and got it going early.”

After shooting 1-of-7 in the previous three opening quarters of the series, Bosh wasn’t shooting shots – he was shooting makes. And it changed the entire complexion of the game, because it changed the rules of engagement for Roy Hibbert.

While most can appreciate Bosh’s role in stretching the floor when matched up with bigger, slower centers, it’s tough to properly approximate just how complex the equation is for the HEAT’s resident code-maven. If you miss a jumper, the public reaction is that you should attack the rim off the dribble. Or, as the misplaced outcry tends to focus on, he should get in the post. But just because you miss a shot doesn’t make your role in the team’s spacing any less crucial. If you don’t maintain the right inside-out balance, it affects the other four efficiency-seekers around you.

“I hate the storylines of the last few days because Chris has to do a lot of those things that people don't understand for our game to work,” Erik Spoelstra said. “And he gets criticized for that. But he impacts the game in so many winning ways that the average eye doesn't necessarily see.”

The solution? Stop thinking about it so much.

“I kind of put the cerebral stuff to bed,” Bosh said. “So I'm really not thinking too much anymore and just going out and playing.”

Making your first shot helps just a little bit, too.

Just as it had in the previous three games, the first shot went to Bosh, this one coming off a fairly common flare screen. Just as he had in the previous three games, Hibbert closed on Bosh but left just enough room between them to invite a jumper. And just as he had in the previous three games, Bosh took the shot.

This time, it went in.

“In the beginning of the game, Coach drew up a play for me, and I pretty much made up my mind that I was going to shoot it,” Bosh said.

“I was able to slice over the top to release pressure from him, make Hibbert back up into the lane, and that got him his first shot,” James said.

But one shot wasn’t enough to effect change. The next time down the floor, Bosh again found himself open, this time in the corner, with plenty of room to shoot.

The next look was slightly more difficult to earn, only because Bosh couldn’t simply stand still and wait for the catch. But a pick-and-pop with James was all it took. Hibbert sucked into the paint, creating a gulf between him and Bosh and a lengthy closeout that few seven-footers can fathom making.

Jumper. Jumper. Jumper. Bosh knew it. Hibbert knew it. Bosh had the upper hand, and plenty of cards to play.

Next came the ace. The fake.

“He was hitting a lot of jump shots,” Hibbert said. “He was hot from the start. My teammates told me he was going to cool down throughout the game.”

If the Pacers expected Bosh to start missing shots, they weren’t about to give him the opportunity to do so.

One possession after his dribble-drive – one of 27 HEAT drives in the game, per SportVU, to just 11 Indiana drives – Bosh has forced the adjustment. He finds the corner, and Hibbert finds him. The best rim-protector in the league now may as well be a Tom Thibodeau-coached player practically hugging Ray Allen to prevent him from shaking loose in the corner.

“He’ll probably tell you that the rim feels like an ocean when he makes the first couple, especially from three like that,” Norris Cole said. “He really stretches the floor for us and makes it difficult for the bigs to sag in the paint. That’s their strength, they want to funnel everything to the paint and when CB is stepping out there and knocking them down it makes it tough on them.”

Tough not only to apply the desired defensive positioning they want to wall off the paint, but tough to maintain an ultra-conservative, hang-back, come-at-me style of pick-and-roll coverage.

Suddenly, Bosh broke the containment seal.

It’s a funny thing how defensive spacing in the NBA works. If you’re comfortable designing your format so that certain players are afforded certain shots, should all that game-planning be affected by a couple of those shots going in? Shouldn’t you go into things willing to give up those shots regardless of whether or not they’re falling?

Watching a player hit shot after shot after shot has a psychological effect, if not on coaches then on the players trusted with executing a scheme. It’s no easy task constantly explaining to yourself, in live action, that percentages should play out as the shots are being made right in front of you, with nobody else to blame. So most players react, in however small, subtle ways. They creep towards the corners. They help less. They change.

When the HEAT say they want to get to their game and play on their terms, this is it. It’s breaking the Pacers out of their shell, out of the Thundercloud Formation, and making them adjust. It didn’t matter for long as Hibbert fell into foul trouble, but it mattered enough in Miami’s best start of a series that now stands 3-1. The HEAT imposed their will and found their spacing Monday night, and they only needed a few, basic jumpers – some of the same shots they were getting in earlier games – to help them do it.

Statistical supports for this article provided by NBA.com, STATS LLC and Synergy Sports