Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has called Chris Bosh the team's "most important player" on multiple occasions. So it should come as little surprise that when Bosh struggles like he did in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers, the Heat run into some serious problems.
Bosh battled through both foul trouble and an ankle injury in a 99-92 loss that has the series now tied up at 2-2 heading back to Miami. The Heat big man finished with seven points on 1-of-6 shooting to go along with just three rebounds, while his counterpart Roy Hibbert had 23 points and 12 rebounds.
Things started poorly for Bosh almost right away, as he picked up two fouls in the first quarter. He was then whistled for his third a few minutes after returning in the second quarter, forcing him to the bench for the rest of the half.
Bosh picked up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter when he collided with Hibbert in the paint. The collision forced Bosh to the locker room with an ankle injury, and although he returned to the game, he remained ineffective and was no match for Hibbert down the stretch.
Hibbert outworked Bosh on several key plays in the fourth quarter, grabbing offensive rebounds and scoring on second-chance opportunities on consecutive possessions. On the second one, Hibbert missed a hook shot then darted around a sleeping Bosh to grab the board and finish an and-one. The basket and ensuing free throw were huge, not only because it put the Pacers up five with 1:30 to play, but it was LeBron James' fifth foul. And moments after the MVP buried a three to answer Hibbert, he was called for a sixth foul for setting an illegal screen.
Bosh has had a problem with Hibbert, and rebounding in general, all series long. Hibbert is averaging 22.8 points and 12.0 rebounds in the series, while Bosh is averaging 14.0 points and 3.3 rebounds. The 14.0 points per game is not that bad, but there's little excuse for a near seven-footer to be pulling down barely over three rebounds per game, especially when that player is one of the only legitimate big men on the team. Bosh's poor rebounding has contributed to the Pacers' gaudy offensive rebounding percentage of 39.9 percent in the series.
Who knows just how much the ankle bothered Bosh in that fourth quarter, but the Heat could be in trouble if he's hobbled going forward. Miami struggled mightily at times in last year's playoff series against Indiana when Bosh was out, and this time around, it's unlikely that the Heat can count on Dwyane Wade to swoop in and play superhero. Wade averaged 33.0 points in the final three games of last year's series, but he has managed 20 points just once in this postseason.
While Bosh has had his struggles in this series, his mere presence is important to the Heat's offense because his outside shooting often forces Hibbert away from the basket. When Hibbert is able to just sit around the bucket and protect the rim, it causes problems for Miami. According to ESPN Stats & Info, James has driven to the rim 18 times with Hibbert on the court in this series. On those drives, James has scored five points on 1-of-3 shooting with 11 passes. If Bosh is limited, Hibbert can focus even more on defending against those drives.
The Heat almost certainly need Bosh to be healthy and contributing if they want to survive this series. Perhaps James goes into God mode or Wade finds his mojo, but this is an improved Pacers team, but that may not be enough if Bosh is not right.