Heat Strokes, Game 9: Rethinking The Big ThreeS

FreeDarko's Bethlehem Shoals, a regular contributor to NBA FanHouse and co-author of The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History (visit the FreeDarko store, too!), is keeping a game-by-game diary of the Heat's season — the one you're pretending not to care about.

Note: Bethlehem Shoals is taking the next couple of columns off because of a scheduling conflict. Filling in for him is Eric Freeman, a FreeDarko regular and one of the authors of The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History.

Result: Celtics 102, Heat 97
Record: 5-4

While the score might suggest a close game, this was probably the most dominant five-point win I've ever seen. The Celtics forced the Heat into bad shots throughout the night, and Miami played along by not working terribly hard to find good shots. At the other end, the Heat seemed unable to put together a string of solid defensive stops, with their rotations looking erratic the entire night. Rajon Rondo's slam was the play of the night, but it wouldn't have been possible without Chris Bosh's polite indifference.

Which brings us back to the inexorable problem of Bosh, who has the dominated the storyline of the Heat's season just as surely as LeBron dominated the storyline of their offseason. It's rare that you see a star get exposed the way Bosh has, and as Shoals wrote the other day, he — not LeBron, who is too effervescent a player for serious hoops fans to hate for long; not Wade, who didn't really do anything to begin with — has become the team's ultimate asshole. He is now the villain to virtually everyone. In Toronto, he's seen as a traitor. Stateside, he's another ring-chasing imperialist. And in Miami? He's the guy ruining the party.

That's not all his fault, obviously. Maybe we just misread the Big Three from the beginning. As noted by Zach Lowe on SI.com earlier this week, the Heat are different from other recent Big Three conglomerates in that their trio is in its prime and accustomed to monopolizing the ball. To use an available example, the Celtics had no such issues: Kevin Garnett was past his prime and desperate to win; Pierce had long ago proven he couldn't do it on his own; and Ray Allen still spent lots of time off the ball as a shooter even when he was at his best. One player was proficient where the others had been deficient, and everything snapped cleanly into place; no one had to take on an entirely new role. On the Heat, Chris Bosh is obviously not in the same class as his two superstar teammates, and by necessity he has to play not just a smaller role, but a different one. He's a star who cannot possibly hope to get star touches on this roster.

The Heat, it turns out, have a Big Three in the same way that the '99-'00 Lakers did. In case you forget, that squad had Shaquille O'Neal, a very young Kobe Bryant, and sharpshooter Glen Rice, who had earned a sparkling reputation as a consistent 20-point scorer for the Heat and Hornets. In L.A., Rice was a relative failure, picking up about 15 per game and hitting some open threes. He was an important piece of that year's championship team, but he was much less important than Shaq and Kobe; he won a ring while using nothing close to the full extent of his talent. That's roughly what the Heat have in Bosh when what they really needed was something like the 2004 Rasheed Wallace — a guy who could guard the opponent's best interior scorer and chip in on offense at a low usage rate. They needed a Big Two and a talented lunatic, in other words.

I don't mean to sound as if the Heat are doomed forever; it's just that the Big Three calculus needs a lot of work if this team is going to become a juggernaut. Bosh has been the scapegoat so far, but the problem is not a deficit of firepower so much as a lack of imagination. We're watching a fundamentally unselfish team try and iso its way to glory. For that, a lot of the blame has to fall on the shoulders of Erik Spoelstra, who I suspect is ducking Pat Riley around the office these days.

Eric Freeman is a writer and editor from San Francisco. He is a FreeDarko regular and one of the authors of The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History. His work has also appeared on SportingNews.com, FanHouse, and The Awl. Follow him on Twitter.

Bethlehem Shoals is a founding member of FreeDarko.com and a regular contributor to NBA FanHouse. You can buy The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History and lots of other stuff at the FreeDarko store.

Image via, H/T Jovan J.