With Chris Bosh “Out Indefinitely,” the Pacers’ Chances to Beat the Heat Improve
Chris Bosh suffered an abdominal strain late in the first half of Game 1 that will keep him “out indefinitely,” according to the Heat.
Wasn’t nary a soul, outside of the Pacers locker room anyway, who gave the Pacers a chance of winning a series against the Heat. But after a first-half performance by Indiana in Game 1 that can fairly be called dominant and Bosh now sidelined for at least the near-term future, it would seem that the Pacers’ odds are on the rise.
The Pacers were demolished by LeBron in the second half yesterday. The degree to which he overwhelmed Indiana, especially in the fourth quarter, cannot be over-stated. But the Pacers remained competitive even as LeBron and Wade went semi-nuts and their own offense went into the tank. Going forward, the team should have plenty of confidence and game film to help them better adjust and sustain their play in Games 2, 3 and 4.
Abdominal injuries can be tricky beasts — they limit range of motion, sap explosiveness, screw with mechanics and make reaching or contesting on defense an awful chore. Once the MRI results are back and Miami knows the extent of the injury, we’ll get a clearer picture of how long Bosh will be out.
On the plus side for the Heat, the team appears to be well positioned to handle Bosh’s absence in the short term, thanks in large part to how James’ ridiculous skill set enables him to shift very quickly from nightmarish small forward to a holy terror at power forward.
So yeah, there is that.
But the Heat are not a complete team regardless of the fact that LeBron may be the most complete player in basketball history. Miami has been so great mainly due to the play of two historically elite players and one unbelievable power forward. Without that power forward, they will have to rely even more on the other two.
UPDATE: Via Ira Winderman, Heat beat writer for the South Florida Sentinnel.
The non-update update on Chris Bosh leaves opponents with game-to-game uncertainty, but we’re likely talking an extended absence.
According to physioroom.com: Abdominal strain: 1-2 weeks (minor), 3-4 weeks (moderate), 6-8 weeks (severe)
Take those estimates for what they’re worth (little) but if we base anything off them, then Bosh would likely be out through Game 4 (Sunday 5/20) and perhaps sidelined for the the entire series. (Game 7, if needed, will be played Saturday, 5/26.)
UPDATE PART II: Mike Prada of SB Nation offers the following on Bosh’s importance to the Heat. (Emphasis added by me.)
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.
UPDATE PART III: Then again, Zach Lowe offers some evidence that the Heat are still definite favorites in this series even without Bosh. (Again, my emphasis.)
Now, LeBron James will play huge minutes at power forward in “smaller” lineups that have done quite well this season, with and without Bosh. Counting only lineups that logged at least 10 minutes together in the regular season, the Heat used James at power forward for 376 minutes and outscored opponents by about 14.5 points per 100 possessions — a number that would have led the league by a long shot, according to Basketball Value. The two such units that recorded the most minutes did not feature Bosh, as the Heat often used James as power forward when one or both of the other stars rested.
David West was unable to punish James in the post in Game 1, both because Miami makes it a chore just to enter the ball, and because LeBron is just as big and strong as the Pacers’ power forward. Miami’s move to sign Shane Battier and retain Mike Miller has it stocked with defenders capable of guarding small forward Danny Granger, sparing each of the LeBron/Battier/Miller trio the full-game burden. The Pacers were unwilling to go small/fast along with Miami on Sunday, forcing West into an awkward matchup on defense with Battier. That pulls West from the paint, opening driving lanes, and over the course of the series it will provide Battier some good looks as West scrambles around in an unfamiliar, perimeter-oriented assignment.
In five meetings this season, the Heat are plus-35 against the Pacers in about 41 minutes with James at power forward, per NBA.com. The sample size is tiny, but we have no evidence Indiana can combat this.
Lowe also notes multiple issues being without Bosh presents for Miami, most notably the fact that LeBron may have to play a ton of minutes.
Miami will be playing a dangerous game if coach Erik Spoelstra asks James to approach 45 minutes every game, a possibility if LeBron must play power forward for extended time. James played at least 42 minutes in 15 of Miami’s 21 postseason games last year, and in the Finals, the Mavericks were convinced that they could exhaust him in a long series. This is one reason Dallas began running a bunch of staggered pick-and-roll plays for guard Jason Terry once it became clear that James would defend him down the stretch of games. Dallas wanted James to expend maximum energy on defense, confident the minutes load would eventually take its toll on body and mind.
Miami has made one adjustment in the postseason that could mitigate this: The Heat have played much more with small lineups that don’t include James at all. Going “small” was almost exclusively a LeBron thing in the regular season; no lineup that featured another Miami guard or wing player as the nominal power forward logged even eight minutes all year, per Basketball Value.
One such lineup — Wade, Miller, Battier, point guard Mario Chalmers and center Joel Anthony — has already been used 22 minutes in the playoffs, and a second has played seven minutes, according to NBA.com’s stats database.