It's easy to bag on Chris Bosh these days. The Miami Heat forward has gone from being one of the NBA's top power forwards to a much lesser player whose star shines much dimmer than superstar teammates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. He's lost touches and confidence since leaving Toronto, and due to his slender frame and the Heat's lack of bodies up front, he's been forced into a power role that doesn't really suit his game.
All this said, he's still an incredibly important part of the Heat's core. If he's lost for any significant amount of time due to an abdominal injury suffered in the first half of the Heat's 95-86 win over the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, the Heat are in big trouble. Maybe they can get by the Pacers -- emphasis on the maybe there -- but they need Bosh in the lineup if they want to fulfill their title dreams.
Sunday's result provides a little hope, but Heat fans shouldn't make too much out of the game. The Heat won, but they needed a superhuman effort from James and Wade to make it happen. James and Wade outscored Indiana by themselves in the second half, turning the screws up a notch like the great players they are. When combined with Miami's pressure defense -- which, to be fair, they may still be able to rely upon in this series against the Pacers' erratic guards -- it was enough to get the win. But it's also not fair to ask James and Wade to play to this level every night, even if they are great players. Nobody can.
Despite Bosh's reputation, every advanced metric points to his importance to the Heat. His PER of 18.9 is well behind Wade and James, but also well ahead of anyone else on the team. He uses 24.2 percent of his team's possessions; other than Wade and James, only Norris Cole (who has fallen out of the rotation) uses over 18 percent. Over each of the past two years, Bosh's unadjusted plus-minus has actually been better than Wade's. Adjust it for competition, and Wade beats out Bosh by less than half a point over the past two years. More fundamentally, the Heat are just 7-7 when Bosh has not played over the past two years.
The Heat will especially miss Bosh offensively. When Bosh is in the game, James and Wade have a pick and pop partner that spaces the floor and opens up driving lanes. When he's not, the paint is clogged, the ball movement stinks and the "my turn" offense that many accuse the Heat of relying on too much rears its ugly head.
The numbers bear this out, too. This season, the Heat score over 111 points per 100 possessions when Bosh is on the court and less than 103 when he's not. The team's effective field goal percentage (basically, field goal percentage while adding extra weight to threes) drops from just over 52 percent to about 47.5 percent. Worse, the percentage of the team's field goals that are assisted drops from 55 percent to 51 percent. You could look forever for a number to suggest that no Bosh is better for Miami's offense, but you won't find it.
Worse, Miami's game-plan to attack Indiana directly involved Bosh. Indiana's one of the league's strongest defenses, but teams can attack them by taking advantage of Roy Hibbert's lack of mobility defending pick and roll. Using Bosh, a major threat popping out for open jumpers, would have exploited that weakness. Now, Hibbert can contain the ball-handler without having to worry to scurry back to cover Bosh. Ironically, the play Bosh got injured on is the exact kind of play that most exploited Hibbert's lack of mobility and was one you could have expected to see all series.
If Bosh doesn't play, the Heat will have to replace him with a combination of Ronny Turiaf, Joel Anthony and LeBron James (James could slide over to power forward). Anthony had a big Game 1, but that was as a result of a lack of scouting more than anything. Once Indiana starts to realize that it has to keep him off the offensive glass, he'll likely be neutralized. You can probably expect to see James at power forward more often, but that also moves him onto the stronger David West and off Danny Granger, who James forced into an awful game. If Granger even plays a mediocre game on Sunday, the Pacers win. He will surely play better if freed from James' shackles.
Perhaps Bosh isn't the third superstar we all expected, but that doesn't mean the Heat won't miss a beat without him in the lineup. Miami better hope the MRI on his injured abdominal muscle turns out OK. Otherwise, they better hope James and Wade play like playoff legends every game if they want to win the title.