MIAMI — Erik Spoelstra’s message to Chris Bosh was clear: What goes up must come down. And then go up and come down again. And again. And again.
“What we’ve wanted from him this season was to focus on jumping,” Spoelstra said, “focus on how many jumps can he get in a possession.”
While Bosh might never overwhelm with his lithe build, his 6-foot-11 length is essential for the undersized Miami Heat.
“We’re not talking about flails, not bailouts, not undisciplined shot-fake jumps,” the Heat coach continued, “but to be an anchor for us as a big. When the ball does get into the paint, he’s a big, long presence, when he gets up off the floor.”
Message delivered. Message received.
Bosh’s average of 1.4 blocked shots per game during the regular season matched the highest average of his 10-year career, the first time he recorded 100 or more blocks since his first two seasons in the NBA while with the Toronto Raptors.
And the blocks have kept on coming. With 18 blocks through nine games this postseason, he is one off his highest total for any postseason, when he had 19 for the Heat in 21 games in the 2011 playoffs, when he was cast as a power forward instead of at center.
“It kind of just happened,” Bosh said of closing 17th in the league in blocks per game during the regular season and now sixth in the league during the playoffs. “Spo has been on me about that, not so much blocking shots, but contesting shots and jumping every time I get the opportunity.”
“We need rim protection,” Spoelstra said. “It doesn’t always necessarily have to be a block. But we need to be able to challenge at multiple positions, when it does get into the paint, that it’s not an uncontested, ultra-high percentage shot.
“And Chris has great instincts, great timing and the length and athletic ability to change shots.”
And he knows it.
“I’m a natural shot-blocker,” Bosh said.
That’s when teammate Shane Battier, seated alongside at practice, chimed in with a, “What?”
“I am, Shane,” Bosh turned to his right and replied, “ACC All-Defensive Team, unanimous. Check the stats.
“I led the ACC in blocked shots my freshman year.”
Actually, Battier appreciates Bosh making the most of his length. While LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are known for their athletic shot-blocking on the wing, there are times when length has to prevail at the rim, especially in these impending Eastern Conference finals, when the Indiana Pacers can counter with the length of Roy Hibbert.
“It’s not about shot blocking,” Battier said, “it’s about shot affecting, as long as you have someone to affect shots in different ways.”
Last Wednesday, when the Heat closed out the Bulls in Game 5 of that Eastern Conference semifinal series, Bosh led the Heat with a pair of blocks. The game before, he had four in Chicago, one more that the entire Bulls roster. More figures to be needed when this next round opens Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.
“He’s been active,” Battier said, “and it’s important because you have to give the attackers on the opposing team something to think about. And when you do, those percentages start to come down.”
Such deterrence would be particularly helpful against the Pacers’ Paul George and Lance Stephenson.
“C.B’s been very active,” James said after Monday’s practice. “He’s given us unbelievable rebounds around the rim. He’s been double digits a lot of our games. He’s been blocking shots. He’s been a rim protector for us and we definitely need that, especially in our starting unit.”
As for Spoelstra imploring Bosh to jump, Battier smiles.
“I believe it can become a habit, but at the same time, it’s instinctual,” he said. “So the habit can become instinctual.
“I always laugh when I hear the coaches say, ‘C.B., jump.’ It doesn’t have the effect that ingrained habits and instincts have.”
Ingrained, inspired or innate, it has been an aspect of Bosh’s game that has been impactful.
“It’s just work ethic really,” he said. “That’s all, just competing on every single play.”