Bosh, Wade struggle again, Pacers take advantage to force Game 7
INDIANAPOLIS -- Chris Bosh was late coming out of the trainer's room. He stood off in a corner of the locker room, by himself, staring off further than the walls should have allowed.
"I didn't show up for my teammates tonight," he said. "It will not happen again."
He sounded neither confident nor emphatic. His Miami Heat had fallen 91-77 Saturday in Game 6 of the Eastern finals, and Bosh looked ahead to Game 7 by trying to look within himself. He was trying to understand how, in a game so important, he could have been so unimportant.
The defending champions are up against a hard deadline. By Monday night they must prove they can generate more than the 15 points on 19 shots they received from Bosh and Dwyane Wade in this loss. The Heat tried to feed both of their All-Stars early. Wade missed all three of his attempts in the opening quarter. Bosh was 1-of-5 and he would fail to convert his remaining three shots to finish with a futile stat line of five points, four rebounds and three turnovers in 31 minutes, a stream of numbers entirely unbecoming of a 6-foot-11 All-Star.
"Just get back in the gym," said Bosh when asked how he will respond. "Just work on my game. That's the only thing that will help me right now. I feel my rhythm is off right now and I've just been searching for it the whole series, really. And I'm going to have to go find it. I've got less than 48 hours to do that."
He will have two big problems to defeat Monday in Game 7 in Miami. Bosh will need to give his team more than the paltry 11.7 points he has been averaging over these six games and he'll also have to do a better job in preventing 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert (24 points and 11 rebounds) from dominating the paint.
All of a sudden the pressure is entirely on the Heat. They can't assume the Pacers will collapse now, not after they pulled away with a 29-15 third quarter under their own stress of imminent elimination. In that quarter Hibbert and Paul George (28 points, eight rebounds and five assists overall) each went for nine points as Indiana outscored Miami 16-0 in the paint. The Heat can't expect Hibbert to succumb to the tension in Game 7 if he's shooting from gimme range under the basket.
"All across the board they just flat-out beat us," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "In every facet of the game they outclassed us in that quarter. Basically everything we have to do to win this series, we gave up."
This has to be an inspiring series for the Spurs, who swept Memphis in the Western finals Monday and ever since have been watching the Pacers tear holes in Miami's reputation and confidence. The Heat went 46-3 over a span of four months while everyone raved about how the championship would be theirs by default, but that run has been abutted by losses in three of their last five games against Indiana.
"Explain it? You seen it. It was total domination by the Pacers in the third," LeBron James said. "I believe in my teammates. They are struggling right now, obviously. So they got another opportunity on Monday and I look forward to the challenge. I know they do as well."
James had a swagger to him in the early going of this game. In anticipation of the opening tip he hopped under his own basket, looking all around at the uniform golden shirts worn by the fans he was looking forward to silencing, and then he turned and gave a mini arm-waving version of the Ray Lewis pregame dance. And then he put up his typical 28 points, eight rebounds and five assists, and found it to be not nearly enough.
When James referred back to his "Cleveland days" after driving the Heat to a win in Game 5, he wasn't far off. The Heat's road uniforms were reminiscent of the red he used to wear for the Cavaliers, for whom he was never able to score enough points in the absence of A-list stars around him.
Throughout this series he has experienced a recurrence of that frustrating theme. Wade gave Miami nine points in the third period and a single point in the other quarters. Wade's knee and Bosh's sprained ankle have been troubling, but neither wanted to discuss them in the sombre quiet of their locker room. On the contrary, Wade was almost combative, which was not a bad sign -- they're going to need more fight from him Monday.
"We got to do a good job of making sure that me and Chris can have opportunities to succeed throughout the game," Wade said. "That's something we're going to have to look at as a team and see what's best."
"We can state the obvious -- they're both struggling," James said. "Chris is struggling with his shot and him hurting his ankle didn't help him a lot as well. I think he will find it. He will find it."
James tried to remain upbeat. "You can't substitute the atmosphere that we're going to be in on Monday night for both teams," he said. "We should all cherish this moment. At the end of the day, go out and play. Have fun. It's just a game of basketball. That's all it is. It's just a game of basketball at the end of the day."
The Heat focused on the numerous shots they missed around the basket, especially in their disastrous third quarter and they dwelled on how their sensational regular season had earned them the right to play Game 7 on their home floor. They talked about how the support of their fans will bring out the best in them. They referred to the experience of the seventh game they won in the Eastern finals last year against Boston on their way to the championship. These were all parts of a larger conversation they had been hoping to avoid. They had been hoping to celebrate a return to the NBA Finals instead of wondering privately whether this could be the premature end.
"I'm just really disappointed in myself," Bosh said, quietly. "I've built resolve over my whole career. I'm going to have to use it for Monday."
The most unexpected problem of all is so many of the variables are suddenly on Miami's side of the ball. The Pacers have their go-to strengths of size and rebounding and scoring in the paint that have been mainly unstoppable in this series. But who has been the go-to producer for Miami in game after game apart from James? If the seventh game is tight entering the final minutes, and the Pacers decide to take on James's advice as if they have nothing to lose -- which is exactly how they should feel -- then isn't there a chance it will be stars like Bosh and Wade who will be straining against the pressure?
"It's the part where you have to be mentally tough," Bosh said, as if scolding himself. "It's really not been going my way this series. I want to play better. And I will play better. And I have to play better in Game 7. And it's just as simple as that."
Actually, it isn't as simple as that. It was beautifully simple for much of this runaway season for Miami. But not anymore.