The Miami Heat did not outright confirm the rumor that Chris Bosh would be suiting up and returning to the court for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but by upgrading Bosh's injury status to "day-to-day" (from "out indefinitely") on Monday, they practically guaranteed Bosh would see time against the Boston Celtics.
"He'll get a vote," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the decision whether Bosh will play Tuesday. "These are extreme circumstances. Everybody will be involved in the decision, if and when it happens. But you always have to take the player's opinion with a grain of salt. They all say they're ready. ... He said he was ready 10 days ago."
Bosh certainly must have been pained to watch Celtics PF Kevin Garnett do whatever he wants against Miami's defense through the first four games of the series, knotted up at 2 games apiece. Averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds per game during the Eastern Conference Finals, his importance to the Celtics cannot be understated.
During the 2012 playoffs, Boston has outscored opponents by a combined 164 points when Garnett is on the floor. When he sits, the Celtics have been outscored by 116 points. Against Miami, the Celtics are plus-25 points with Garnett on court, and minus-25 with him off.
In last year's playoff series between Miami and Boston, when Bosh was Garnett's primary defender, Garnett had one outstanding Game 3, when he scored 28 points with 18 rebounds. In the other four games (all Heat wins), Garnett averaged 11 points and 9 rebounds per game.
But Miami does not necessarily need Bosh to slow down what has been a potent Boston offense. In Game 4, the Heat allowed just 28 points in the second half, and 4 points in the overtime period. Miami gave up more points in the first quarter (34).
The Heat were able to slow Boston by rolling up their sleeves and upping their intensity, double-teaming Garnett and making effective switches and rotations whenever Boston used a pick-and-roll. If the Heat can continue to pressure Boston on defense, they might not actually need Bosh.
Even so, Bosh can contribute on the offensive end. With his perimeter shooting capabilities, Bosh is able to suck opposing defenders out of the paint, giving LeBron James and Dwyane Wade more space to drive to the rim. With Garnett camping out in the lane for much of the series, the Heat could benefit in a major way on offense from Bosh's return, even if he does not score much.
Not that the Celtics would admit to any worries about the return of Bosh. "Chris is obviously very talented and poses his own problems, but I don't think Kevin is that concerned with whoever's there," Boston coach Doc Rivers said Monday.
But the Heat will be happy to have Bosh back, no matter what level of contribution he can make. In two seasons with Bosh as a member of the Heat, Miami was won 72 percent of games when he takes the floor (116-45, including playoffs). When Bosh is out, the Heat have gone just 12-11.
Game 5 coverage begins at 8:30 on ESPN.