Chris Bosh's return to starting lineup boosts Heat

Marc J. Spears
Yahoo Sports

OKLAHOMA CITY – Chris Bosh and his wife, Adrienne, were the picture of contentment as they talked late Thursday in a hallway leading from the Oklahoma City Thunder's locker room. Kevin Durant walked past the couple, and he was not the picture of contentment. Eyes locked forward, disappointment on his face, Durant didn't even appear to notice the couple.

What Durant did notice: Bosh's impact on the Miami Heat as he returned to the starting lineup. Starting for the first time since he suffered an abdominal injury, Bosh totaled 16 points, a playoff career-high 15 rebounds and two blocks in the Heat's 100-96 Game 2 victory over the Thunder.

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Chris Bosh had 16 points and 15 rebounds in Game 2, his first start since May 13. (Reuters)

“I just wanted to be more aggressive coming out starting,” Bosh said. “I knew it had been a huge deal the past day or so. But that’s my comfort zone. That’s what I’ve been doing.”

Bosh missed nine games after suffering his abdominal strain in the Heat's second-round series against the Indiana Pacers. He returned as a reserve for the final three games of the Eastern Conference finals. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra then elected to again bring him off the bench in the opening game of the NBA Finals. Miami lost as Bosh totaled 10 points and four boards in 33 minutes.

Spoelstra wouldn't publicly commit to starting Bosh for Game 2, but the move was widely expected. When Spoelstra called for the Heat's first team to come to the floor during Wednesday's private practice, Bosh walked out with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier. Spoelstra didn’t stop him.

“Why not?” Bosh said. “…I knew it was time.”

[Related: LeBron James outduels Kevin Durant, delivers clutch plays to tie NBA Finals]

Bosh replaced Udonis Haslem in the lineup, and the move immediately paid off. Bosh's versatile offensive game – he has 3-point range and can play facing the basket or with his back to it – allows Miami to better space the floor. Opponents have a harder time double-teaming Wade or James when they also have to pay attention to Bosh. Wade missed 12 of 20 shots in Game 1, but went 10 of 20 for 24 points in Game 2.

Bosh also said he learned during his absence how to better coexist with James and Wade in Miami's offense.

“It was key having one of our best players on the floor early, especially when we needed to start off great,” Wade said. “So Chris came out just like the rest of us, very aggressive, and that spreads the floor, gives us more gaps to get to the paint. We’re glad he’s back playing his regular minutes, and that’s going to be key for us the rest of the way.”

Bosh's absence during two tough series against the Pacers and Boston Celtics showed just how important he is to the Heat's success. The Thunder also noticed how much the Heat improved with Bosh on the floor to start Game 2.

“I think he helped them out, tipping balls, getting extra possessions, just doing his job,” Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said.

Bosh seems to have shaken off the rust from his three-week absence. He also doesn't seem to be too worried about getting hurt again. Doctors have told him he will have to deal with some lingering pain. He appeared to have no problem in an impressive second-quarter sequence in which he threw down a put-back dunk then blocked a shot from Thunder guard James Harden.

“It’s going to bother you a little bit, but you just push on,” Bosh said. “I knew that when I came back it was going to be like that. But you got to get through it. It’s the Finals.”

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