As his teammates celebrated on the AmericanAirlines Arena court late Monday night, Chris Bosh took a breath and looked around.
A sense of relief seemed to come over his face.
The Heat pushed back in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals to knock off the Indiana Pacers.
For Bosh, that not only means a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals, but it also meant no more Roy Hibbert to contend with. No more David West to bang around inside.
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Arguably the toughest postseason series of Bosh’s short playoff career was over. On Wednesday, Bosh was asked whether a change of scenery would be good for his overall game. Bosh smiled.
“After playing the same team seven times, you do get burnt out a little bit,” said Bosh, who averaged 11 points and 4.3 rebounds in the Indiana series. “It was a very emotional series for everyone. It’s draining and that’s how the playoffs are. But once you move on, it is nice to play another team. But it’s a different element now. It’s going to be different.”
As the Heat continues to try and defend the 2012 championship, one of its biggest questions is whether Bosh can bounce back from his subpar series.
Coach Erik Spoelstra said there is no doubt he can, noting that his matchup changes as well as pointing to Bosh’s improved performance in Game 7. “I like the way he left off last series,” Spoelstra said.
Although Bosh didn’t hit many of his shots (he scored nine points on 3-for-13 shooting), he did pull down his biggest number of rebounds (eight) and had a series-best three blocked shots.
“There’s so many different stories during the playoffs, and we’ve seen it just with our group,” Spoelstra said.
“Guys struggle one series, now they’re the hero of the next series. One series you play extremely well, the next one it’s tough. The most important thing is collectively you’re working for a common goal, working together, help us win in whatever way you can.”
Bosh had a tough matchup against Hibbert and West, big men Indiana used to clog the middle. San Antonio doesn’t exactly play that way.
Like Miami, the Spurs spread the floor more than Indiana does. With future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter playing down low, however, Bosh will find challenges in this series, too.
Duncan, now 37, is going for his fifth NBA title and first since beating LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007.
Despite getting older, Duncan was named to the All-NBA first team for the first time since 2007 by averaging almost 18 points and 10 rebounds per game.
“You have to play such an intelligent defensive game against him,” center Joel Anthony said. “He will make you pay for every mistake. He has a knack being able to draw a foul if you aren’t moving your feet. He has so many different moves.”
Duncan, a three-time Finals MVP, has been named to the All-NBA first team 10 times in his career.
“He’s a little bit craftier now that he’s getting older,’’ Bosh said of facing Duncan in this series. “He knows every trick in the league. We have our work cut out for us. Defensively he knows every play, has seen every play there’s ever been. Offensively, he’s been in that system a long time. You can’t gave him the same looks over and over because he’ll make those reads.”
Said Spoelstra: “We’ll have a different challenge in doing it against the Spurs than we did against the Pacers. That is clear. Their game is different. Offensively they’ll attack us in much different ways. And then offensively we’ll have to attack them in different ways than we did in the last series. So you grow. You get tested. Hopefully you get better from the rounds that prepare you for this.”
Like Miami’s battle with Indiana, the Spurs had to contend with the size of Memphis in the Western Conference finals. San Antonio handled its challenge a little better as it swept the Grizzlies and has been off since finishing that series on May 27.
Duncan said even though Miami and San Antonio spread the floor more than Indiana and Memphis do, the physical play will be there. Udonis Haslem is expected to get the initial call to defend Duncan.
“It will be a different type series,”’ Duncan said. “I think it will still be very physical. This time of the season, the Finals will bring it out in everybody. I don’t know if there will be much to relax about. I think it will definitely be a different type, and it will be more up-tempo, more wide open. But the physicality will definitely be there.’’