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National Columnist

Bosh needs to rediscover greatness for Heat to stand chance in Finals

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Chris Bosh is a great player. That's not me talking -- that's his contract talking. That's his career statistics talking. That's his skill set talking. That's his teammates talking. Hell, that's Chris Bosh talking.

"I'm a great player," Bosh said Wednesday.

And I'm not writing this story to dispute that. Chris Bosh is truly a great player. At $16 million a year, he's paid like a great player. At 19.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game over his nine-year NBA career, he has produced like a great player. At 6-foot-11, with the length of a center, the speed of a forward and the shooting range of a guard, he's a great player. And as the most experienced member of the Heat told me on Wednesday, "Chris Bosh is a great player," said 17-year veteran Juwan Howard.

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So I guess my point, my question, is this:

Say, Chris Bosh ... isn't it time for you to play like a great player?

I understand he has been injured. Not just hurt, a word that describes almost every key player in the NBA Finals. After 66 regular-season games shoehorned into a 50-game calendar, and then another 20 or so playoff games, they're all hurting. But injured? That's something else. That's something serious, lasting, and Chris Bosh has been injured. He missed the last five games of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Pacers, then the first four of the conference finals against Boston. He wasn't just hurting -- he was injured.

But now, he's healed.

And again, that's not me talking. That's his coach talking. That's his teammates talking. That's Chris Bosh talking.

"I'm super," Bosh said when I asked him, point blank, if he was ready to contribute like the Chris Bosh that his contract, stats and skill set say he should. "I'm ready."

I asked Juwan Howard the same question. And Joel Anthony. And Udonis Haslem. Those are three of the Heat's big men, guys that practice alongside Bosh, dress alongside him in the locker room, spend time talking to him. And all three said Bosh is ready. All three said -- and I asked them the same question, using the same word -- it was "fair" of me, or anyone else, to apply some pressure to Chris Bosh to be, you know, Chris Bosh.

To date, he hasn't been Chris Bosh. LeBron James has emerged as Batman. Dwyane Wade is Robin. Bosh? He's Alfred, the butler, the guy who brings Batman his shoes.

Chris Bosh didn't come to Miami to be Alfred.

Chris Bosh came to Miami to be part of the Big Three.

You remember that whole concept, right? Seems like light years ago that the Heat were said to have three great players, but they did. And they do. And this is why fans were so angry with the Heat, so upset with LeBron in particular, when he joined forces with two great players in Miami. It wasn't LeBron, Dwyane Wade and, um, someone else. It was LeBron, Wade and Bosh. The Big Three. Superstars, all of them.

So here's my thing for Chris Bosh: It's time to be a superstar.

The Miami Heat trail the Thunder 1-0 in the NBA Finals. Another loss and it's 2-0, and the Heat would have to win four of the last five games -- two of those on the road -- to avoid losing in the Finals for the second year in a row. Time hasn't run out, but it's running short. Very short.

For nearly two years, Bosh has coasted behind greatness. LeBron and Wade have been the motorboat. Bosh has been the skis skimming behind them, soaking up the victories like sunshine, absorbing none of the grit and grime. LeBron and Wade have been the ones asked to do the scoring, the rebounding, the passing, the talking to the media. Bosh has been asked to do light chores. Spot up and hit a jumper from time to time. Grab a rebound. Get out in transition, outrun the slow guy defending you, and dunk when we pass it to you.

Chris Bosh has had it easy, is my point, but break time is over. It's time for some heavy lifting for Bosh, because the Heat need him. They need him, or they're not going to win this series. Dwyane Wade is too flighty, too erratic, maybe too injured. He won't say it, but people close to the franchise say Wade will need knee surgery after the season. If that's true, it explains why he has been so ineffective, seemed so lethargic, this postseason.

Whether it's true or not, the typical postseason game has come and gone without Dwyane Wade being Dwyane Wade. He has been Alfred, fetching LeBron's shoes. Bosh? He's been injured and out, then injured and working his way back into game shape, and now he's just, well, um. He's just there. Another player on the roster, really. He could be Udonis Haslem or Mario Chalmers. I could say Bosh might as well be Shane Battier, but that wouldn't be fair -- to Battier. The former Duke star had 17 points in Game 1, helping the Heat to a commanding early lead that they frittered away because Wade didn't do enough to help LeBron, and because Bosh didn't do much of anything at all.

Bosh finished Game 1 with 10 points and five rebounds. No assists. No blocks. No steals. No real impact, and he made no real impact over 34 minutes.

After that Game 1 loss, the pressure is on LeBron James. He can feel it. He met the media Wednesday with no energy at all, barely making eye contact, not playing along with gags or finding the joy in any of it like he used to. LeBron's a smart guy, and he knows the score: No matter how many points he produces, no matter how well he plays, if the Heat don't win the 2012 NBA Finals, it'll be on him.

Some of the pressure is on Wade as well -- I applied a dose myself after Game 1 -- but Bosh coasts free and clear. No blame, no pressure. No real worries.

The Heat need help. LeBron James has played at a consistently high level. Wade doesn't appear capable of it, not consistently anyway. Nobody else on the roster can reach that level ever -- nobody except Chris Bosh.

And his teammates know it.

"He's a special player," Howard said. "He's one of the better players in this league, and we saw what he can do in Game 7 against the Celtics [when Bosh had 19 points and eight rebounds in 31 minutes]. Every day he tells us he's ready. He's good."

Said Haslem: "He can do what we need him to do. When you have three superstars, it helps to divide [the demands] three ways. It helps everybody."

Said Anthony: "He is that guy. You saw in Game 7 [against Boston]. He's still that guy, and when he laces up his shoes and puts on his jersey, we expect him to be that guy."

So be that guy, Chris Bosh. Your teammates haven't forgotten who you are.

Have you?


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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