LeBron James and Steph Curry traded four would-be game-winners in the final 60 seconds of the Heat’s wild 111-110 win over the Warriors in Oakland on Wednesday night. Miami squandered a seemingly insurmountable 21-point third quarter lead at the hands of surreal Golden State shot-making and a raucous Oracle Arena crowd, setting the stage for James to steal back the victory with a 27-footer as .2 seconds remained on the game-clock.
This was the NBA at its apex: the best players and best fans combining for the best moments that would make a final masterpiece before the season’s proverbial mid-point.
But as the Heat pulled away, the Warriors’s run continued, and All-Star starters played like it with the game on the line, I watched from the rafters somewhat detached. A hazard of blogging, perhaps – always seeing the basketball forest through the basketball trees.
Golden State played this game without Andrew Bogut, forcing Mark Jackson to utilize small-ball lineups similar to those that spurred his team to the Western Conference Semifinals last season. That’s a catch-22 against Miami; that the defending champs subsist on a similar style meant the downsized Warriors wouldn’t get overpowered in the paint, but that they wouldn’t overpower the Heat, either. And if there’s a surefire way to frustrate Miami, we know that blueprint’s foundation by now: physicality.
The Heat’s woes on the glass have reached a nadir. They rank 28th in the league in overall rebound percentage, and dead last when it comes to grabbing their own misses. The crux of that issue is hardly a secret. By most often playing Chris Bosh as nominal center alongside James and a bigger wing in the frontcourt, Miami sacrifices traditional size for skill and speed that fuels its frenetic style on both ends of the floor. The many positives – spacing, ball movement, defensive quickness, overall versatility – gleaned from that strategy have time to outweigh the major negative – no real paint presence – over time.
The Heat started winning big when they went down this “positionless” path. Erik Spoelstra and company always prefer to utilize lineups that emphasize that unique method. And thanks to the metamorphosis of Bosh on display against the Warriors and all season long, they’re forced to deviate from them less frequently than ever before.
Consider: The Bogut-less Warriors played just two minutes of Wednesday’s game with a pair of traditional big men on the floor. Miami, on the other hand, employed lineups featuring Bosh and Chris Andersen or Greg Oden for a total of six minutes. That’s not a huge sample, obviously, but underscores a brewing development in South Beach that has a chance to loom large come Spring. Slowly but surely, the Heat are becoming more comfortable playing big.
Miami, playing small or big, is built around the strengths of LeBron. That won’t ever change. The viability and prevalence of these new units, though, is a direct correlation of Bosh’s offensive evolution.
Take a look at Bosh’s shooting charts. Above is his performance and distribution from 2012-2013; below is the same from this season.
Bosh has been one of the league’s best mid-range shooters for many years. The extra space that unique skill – especially for a center – affords Miami offensively is of utmost importance to its dominance on that end. James is hard enough to guard surrounded by three shooting safety valves, let alone a fourth that leaves the paint open for him to work from the post. And while Bosh has (mostly) maintained his proficiency from just inside the arc, it’s his development into a consistent threat from behind it that could really change things for the Heat.
Pertinent about Bosh’s performance from three-point range is the location of his attempts. Serge Ibaka, for instance, has also stretched his shooting range to deep this season, though still remains a limited threat. Not from an accuracy perspective, per se, but a positional one: all but two of Ibaka’s 40 three-point tries in 2013-2014 have come from the shorter corners. Conversely, Bosh has taken 77 of his 107 attempts from above-the-break. The importance of that distinction can’t be understated, and for obvious reasons. It’s far more difficult to guard a player comfortable launching at every spot on the floor. This is no fluke or even an outcome of circumstance, basically; Bosh is a legitimately dangerous three-point shooter.
Bosh’s monumental progress here has allowed Miami to maintain offensive space while playing another big alongside him, an aspect sorely missed in years past when he routinely manned the frontcourt with the bench-riding Udonis Haslem. As a result, he and Chris Andersen have already notched 195 minutes of floor-time this season, over thrice the amount they played all of 2012-2013. Why is that important? They vanquish Miami’s chief weakness and offer little to no resistance otherwise.
Of the 37 Heat pairings that have played more than Bosh and Andersen this season, not a single one bests their rebounding percentage of 50.8%. They score just below the team-wide rate and defend almost 10 points better per 100 possessions than average, too, leading to a dominant net rating of +15.6 that ranks second-best for Miami overall. Also worth noting: in 42 minutes played, Bosh and Greg Oden boast a rebounding percentage of 50.7% and net rating of +5.1.
Now, this could be mostly moot in the long run. Spoelstra could opt for the lineups that won the Heat consecutive titles once the playoffs roll around, or perhaps Rashard Lewis or Michael Beasley will assert himself as a permanent fixture of the rotation. But that Miami is increasingly effective using Bosh as a “power forward” is an ace in the hole Spoelstra hasn’t had before. And in the inevitable matchup against physical juggernaut Indiana, that could be a crucial card worth playing.
It wouldn’t be possible without Bosh’s improvement, of course. It’s yet another testament to his supremely underrated all-around impact that he continues to grow as the key supporting piece in Miami. Everything orbits around LeBron and Dwyane Wade remains the more explosive player, but the Heat would be lost without Bosh nevertheless. Awesome finisher, mid-range marksman, three-point shooter, pick-and-roll thwarter, rim-protector, lineup-shifter – he does it all for Miami, filling gaps and creating new ones the opposition must deal with.
The sheer numbers don’t show it. Bosh is prone to frustrating no-shows on the glass, and is at times too easily bullied by players his size or smaller. The video-bombing and face-making certainly contributes to his diminished reputation, as well. But none of that matters below the surface, where Bosh’s influence extends longer than anyone realizes. And by developing into a reputable three-point shooter, he’s not only somehow furthered it, but given his team a better chance to three-peat, too.
Statistical support for this post provided by nba.com/stats.
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