The Inbounds: Chris Bosh and being what you’re not your way

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Chris Bosh has accepted that he has to play center for the Miami Heat. He doesn’t want to, it’s not what he has preferred, not from the moment he signed up for the Triad in South Beach. He likes his finesse game, feels that he’s better as a four, likes the freedom of power forward, and generally has turned his nose up at the idea of being the center. But last year, the Heat won the title with Bosh at center. Kind of.

Bosh played what you would call center because he was the fifth player on the floor and the tallest. He was the primary defender on the biggest player, and his game focused more on inside play. At the same time, though, Bosh was nailing threes and being used as the outlet valve on the drive-and-kick. Bosh tried to bulk up this summer, and then eventually abandoned that plan, and slimmed down even more. The compromise is clear. He’ll play center, but he’ll play it his way.

Bosh wants to be faster than the opposing center, and that’s something that he can rely on the rest of the offense to justify. The Heat rely on team defense to create turnovers and stops, then translate those to transition opportunities using their freakish athleticism. So though Bosh will be matched up against the biggest opponent a lot of the time, he’ll have help from swiping guards and forwards, and as we saw last season, LeBron James will even take some of the work, as he guarded Dwight Howard for stretches. Bosh gets the best of both worlds. He gets to get the pressure of playing five off his back while still essentially playing the four.

That’s kind of the secret to the Heat. Smallball is playing players smaller than traditionally accepted at various positions. What the Heat do is remove the five entirely. They don’t have a shot-blocker/rim-protector (who can catch, hi there Joel Anthony), so they just eliminated it. Their positional flexibility and athletic superiority gifts them the luxury of simply scrapping the positions all together. Their small forward plays point-center and their shooting guard plays point-forward. Their power forward plays power forward and calls it center, and their point guard plays shooting guard.

Say hello my old friend Mr. McCraig, with a leg for an arm, and an arm for a leg!”

Bosh gets to shoot threes, run the floor, play in the pick-and-pop. His compromise is crashing the glass and finishing on putbacks. Bosh’s struggles in out-boxing bigger opponents isn’t a major concern here, because the Heat are going to shoot a high percentage anyway. And his length makes up for his lack of bulk.

That may be what speaks the most to the changes in the NBA. It’s not about size, it’s not about bulk, it’s all about length. Anthony Davis is rail thin and will still be effective. Bosh is scrawny-strong, and can just reach over guys to finish plays. It’s maximizing the resources you have instead of trying to translate a player’s skill into a body type where his skills may not be so comfortable.

At its core, the combination of James, Wade , and Bosh was never perfect. You look at the new-look Lakers, and dynamic distributing point guard with efficient shooting stroke, plus high-usage sh0t-making shooting guard with exceptional skill plus dominant center with hyper-athleticism makes sense. That’s a combination that intuitively makes sense. Distributor plus scorer plus finisher. Passer plus shooter plus rebounder. That’s before you add Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, but the effect is the same. The Heat, on the other hand, had a creating, scoring, all-around small forward, a scoring, gambling shooting guard, and a finesse power forward. The fit’s not obvious.

But the Heat made it work by having a translation of their skills. There’s not a lot of sacrifice that goes on with the stars in Miami, outside of Wade learning to play without the ball more. Bosh is doing what he’s always done, just in different times and in a different flow. The sacrifice comes at the defensive end and in pursuit of the team concept, which is strong and well-executed.

This may not be a career year for Bosh, and in truth, joining Miami hurt his personal star power more than anything. He’s the Ned of the 3 Amigos, the George Harrison to James and Wade’s John and Paul. But it affords him continued success, a smaller role in a bigger position, and the ability to win consistently. He’ll be as big a part of the Heat’s success as he’s ever been, and will continue to fit better into the offense. You can call him center, but he’s not genuinely a center. He’s just Chris Bosh, just as no position fits James. That may be the most impressive thing about the Heat. They never fit their guys into new roles, they just created a different team around individual identities.

And they’re still winning, like a Bosh.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.