For obvious reasons, Thursday's Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals will be remembered as the LeBron James show. James' jaw-dropping 45-point performance overshadowed a lot of what else happened at the TD Garden, including Miami Heat teammate Chris Bosh playing extended minutes in his second game back after missing more than three weeks with a strained abdominal muscle. Bosh's stat line--seven points, six rebounds and three blocks in 28 minutes--was relatively pedestrian, but his presence had a dramatic impact on the game.
James was incredible throughout the game. However, he was at his best with Bosh as a wing man, serving to draw the Boston Celtics' defense and in particular draw the defensive attention of Kevin Garnett. Via the interactive box score at NBA.com/Stats, James' stats were much better with Bosh on the floor.
Big Men Min FGM FGA FTA PTS TS% P48
Garnett 15.9 6 10 0 12 .600 36.2
KG + Bosh 15.2 7 8 8 18 .781 56.8
Bosh 12.9 6 8 1 16 .948 59.8
During the nearly 16 minutes James played against Garnett without Bosh by his side, he scored 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting--terrific numbers that project to more than 36 points over a full 48 minutes, but not the supernova performance he delivered when Bosh stepped on the floor. In a similar span with both Garnett and Bosh playing, James scored 18 points on 7-of-8 from the field. And James was even better during the 12-plus minutes Bosh played while Garnett rested, scoring 16 points, a pace of nearly 60 per 48 minutes, and knocking down three triples.
While Bosh was out of the lineup, you may have seen stats about the dramatic on-court/off-court differential for opposing big men Garnett and Roy Hibbert. Miami's remaining big men had a tough time pulling those players out of the paint and matching up with them on defense. In the first four games of this series, Tom Haberstroh of ESPN's Heat Index reported that the Celtics outscored the Heat by 6.0 points per 48 minutes with Garnett on the floor.
Because James played so well and Boston struggled to connect from the perimeter, Miami was able to play the Celtics with Garnett even with Bosh on the bench. However, when both players were on the floor the game swung completely in the Heat's direction.
Big Men Min ORtg DRtg Net
Garnett 15.9 93.5 92.9 + 0.7
KG + Bosh 15.2 117.9 75.0 +42.9
Bosh 12.9 135.0 100.0 +35.0
Both Miami's offense and defense were far stronger against Boston with Garnett, leading to an incredible 42.9-point advantage per 100 possessions for the Heat. The bulk of the matchup between the two big men came during the late second quarter, when Miami extended its lead from seven to 13 points. The other three times they matched up were no longer than two and a half minutes, but the Heat outscored the Celtics each time.
Boston's best scoring of the night came with Garnett on the bench, though the Celtics struggled to stop the Miami offense without their defensive anchor. They found some success against Bosh by going small during the third quarter with Brandon Bass in the middle and four perimeter players. That group outscored the Heat by three points over four and a half minutes.
Thanks to James, Miami probably would have won Game 6 if Bosh was still in street clothes. Nonetheless, his effect on the game should encourage the Heat heading into the deciding Game 7. Bosh reported no trouble with the extended minutes after the game and may be able to ramp up further with Miami's season on the line. The more Bosh plays, whether as a starter or coming off the bench to be on the floor when Dwyane Wade rests, the better the Heat's chances of advancing to the NBA Finals.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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