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How the Heat's unselfish stars took home Game 2 despite criticism

By Matt Moore | NBA writer

Chris Bosh hit the biggest shot of Game 2.   (USATSI)
Chris Bosh hit the biggest shot of Game 2. (USATSI)

More Game 2: Heat 98, Spurs 96 | Court Vision | Spurs' late miscues

SAN ANTONIO -- At some point, sometime, we're going to have to take a step back and really evaluate why we have such different reactions to decisions based on results.

In the Heat's 98-96 victory against San Antonio to even the NBA Finals in Game 2, LeBron James was masterful, as Ken Berger writes. No cramps talk here, James punished the Spurs inside in the first half, making 6 of 9 shots at the rim. Then when the defense collapsed inside, James elected to go to his jumper, and hurt San Antonio that way with an offensive explosion.

And when the Spurs adjusted once again, further committing resources to try and stop the most dangerous player on the planet, James made the decision, the one he's most often criticized for ... well, outside of The Decision. He passed.

And there waiting for him, was the man who Sunday night said that if LeBron James was the easiest target in the NBA, he's a close second: Chris Bosh.

"I think validating yourself is a constant process," Bosh said after the game. "I really let that go a long time ago. I don't care about those things. I just care about the game. I focus on the game and what we're supposed to do with it ... and to answer your question, I'm probably the second [easiest target in the NBA]."

Bosh has evolved to become the second most important player on the Heat, and yes, that counts Wade. Bosh is the unsung hero for Miami. On Sunday in Game 2, he attacked the rim, defended Tim Duncan in the post, hit jumpers from space, and gave Miami the lead it would carry to a 1-1 split headed back to Dade County. He's criticized for being the third wheel, for being soft, for being too emotional. But it's his cerebral nature that allows him to work so well as the turning point for what the Heat do.

And yet if Bosh had missed, it would have reflected poorly on him for taking that shot, for stepping up instead of finding one of the Big 2 as they've been called. And James? James would have been once again put to the flames for passing up the key shot. But for Bosh, James' decision to trust in him is a gift.

"Me knowing how LeBron is," Bosh said, "you always have to be poised and ready to shoot the basketball. He's the most unselfish player I've ever played with, and especially with the talent that he has playing the game, the way he plays the game. He doesn't, you know, try to force anything."

And that's why James is so often hammered by his critics. He doesn't try and force anything. It's somehow thought that if James had taken a poor shot, that's better than merely passing. But look at the situation, really look at it, and you see there was no alternative and that giving Bosh this opportunity wasn't just a good play, it was the right play.

"It was rewarding in that it was a huge play to help us win," James said after the game. I had just seen it develop the whole time and I wanted to try to put some pressure toward the rim, and I caught Tim Duncan peeking at me a little bit. And I was able to find C.B. in the corner in one of his favorite spots on the floor and he knocked it down."

After the game, Ray Allen said that play begins and ends with the makeup of James as a player. What's the difference in a team that goes to isolation plays at the end of a game like so many failed superstar teams and this Heat team?

"The difference is that guy," Allen said pointing over his shoulder to James, who was quietly dressing with his head down at his locker. "He's a passer. As much as he can score, he's a complete player."

And yet, if Bosh misses, the firestorm the Heat say they don't pay attention to is in full effect again. That's how important Bosh is. Time and time again, the Heat, LeBron James, they've put their trust in him.

"Yeah, with us, look," Spoelstra said, "he's arguably our most important player. We've said that now for four years. And it's not just because of that shot. That's what everyone notices, and if he's not getting normal opportunities, and he's not scoring, or doesn't have big rebound numbers, it seems from the outside everybody is so critical about his game. But for us, he has a lot on this plate.

"He's a two-way player on both ends of the court. He has to facilitate and space the floor and he has to find opportunities to be aggressive. It's a tough balance. He's versatile enough and important enough for us that he's been able to find that."

Second-most targeted, and, despite what Spoelstra says, second-most important. And yet he's willing to make the extra pass. That element of the game that's so crucial to San Antonio was what Bosh used to seal the game. The Spurs' defense, panicking in the face of James' onslaught, broke down. And Bosh made the same kind of unselfish play.

That's the right play. And that's what the Heat have become about, beyond how "Hollywood" they are, beyond the free-agency talk, beyond the nightlife and fashion. They're a team of extremely talented guys that make the right play. For as much as people want to make about the differences in these two phenomenal teams locked in a series with the title on the line, doesn't that sound awfully Spurs-like?

"Playmakers," James Jones said. "There's no secret that our team goes as far as our playmakers take us. They have great chemistry. LeBron's the quarterback. And once he takes over and makes plays, Chris and Dwyane's chemistry, that connection takes over. They make the right play."

James was gone in Game 1 due to some air conditioning nonsense. But after the talk of cramps is over and the temperature has returned in AT&T Center to downright chilly temperatures postgame, the Heat's trio have still walked out of Texas with a split. The Heat can be great because of LeBron James. They are great because of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

Game 3 will be Tuesday.

 
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