MIAMI (AP) — Chris Bosh has been telling the Miami Heat that he’s ready to play.
The Heat seem ready to listen.
And Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals — which wouldn’t be lacking for drama with Boston and Miami tied at two games apiece — may have another significant layer of intrigue.
Bosh’s status was upgraded to “day-to-day” by Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on Monday, the first deviation by the team after more than three weeks of simply saying his absence was indefinite because of a strained lower abdominal muscle. Spoelstra wouldn’t guarantee that Bosh plays in Game 5, but opened the door to there at least being a chance of the All-Star forward-center suiting up.
“He’ll get a vote,” Spoelstra said of how much Bosh’s input will matter in determining when he takes the floor. “Again, everything is heightened right now. 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.”
The Celtics were ready for him then, too.
So if Tuesday is the Bosh comeback night, Boston will not be caught off-guard.
“We don’t have to do anything different,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We’ve prepared every game like Bosh is going to play. And eventually, he will.”
Bosh was watching from the bench for the two games in Boston, where the Celtics managed to tie the series by following largely the same formula — building a big lead, then holding on at the end.
Of the 101 minutes of game time in Boston, the Heat led for exactly six minutes. The Celtics have led by at least 15 points in each of the last three games, never trailing by more than eight, though managed to win only two of those contests. And Game 4 nearly slipped away as well, Miami digging out of an 18-point hole to take the lead late, before falling 93-91 in overtime as Dwyane Wade’s 3-pointer to win it fell just short at the final buzzer.
Boston’s Paul Pierce fouled out for the third time in the last five games, after having that happen three times in the first 122 playoff games of his career. And Miami’s LeBron James picked up six fouls for the first time in his 107 playoff games, none of the six fouls being of the shooting variety and four of them coming with the Heat in possession of the ball.
“I thought a few of my fouls were, I don’t know,” James said Sunday night.
Who fouled and when made for good theater, but all that ultimately mattered was the score, with Boston guard Rajon Rondo scoring the final three points of the game and the Celtics turning a best-of-seven series into a best-of-three.
“We’ve got to win a game in Miami, of course,” Pierce said after Game 4. “We have a chance of winning this series. It’s not going to be easy. You know, a good old classic bar fight. Going in to it you got to expect every game to be like this. Coming down to the wire, both teams trying to find an edge.”
This core of Celtics — Rondo, Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, who seems to be playing without the pain that left him hobbling a week ago — have found themselves in a 2-2 series eight times before. Every time, they’ve won Game 5, though seven of those wins have come in Boston.
The exception was at Cleveland in 2010, a 120-88 romp that went down James’ final home game as a member of the Cavaliers.
“No one said it was easy,” James said. “This is great. This is what the postseason is all about. It’s about adversity and ups and downs. Like I said, you never get too high and you never get too low. We look forward to Game 5.”
They’ll especially look forward to it if Bosh gets the all-clear sign on Tuesday. Bosh has had several on-court workouts in the past week, and Spoelstra said he was going to evaluate him again Monday.
Bosh was injured late in the first half of the opening game in the Indiana-Miami second round series on May 13. In the nine postseason games since, Miami has gone 5-4. If he can play, the Heat would welcome whatever Bosh can provide, even if that means working a key player back into the lineup to face Garnett and Boston’s frontcourt in the midst of a playoff series.
“Chris is obviously very talented and poses his own problems, but I don’t think Kevin is that concerned with whoever’s there,” Rivers said.
Since Bosh arrived with James to play alongside Wade in Miami in July 2010, the Heat have won 72 percent (116-45) of their games with him in the lineup. Without Bosh, Miami has won only 52 percent of the time, going 12-11.
“We couldn’t win without him for two years. And not only could we not win without him, we looked horrible without him,” Spoelstra said. “So I think that was the bigger challenge. If and when we ever get to that point, we’ll gladly take that challenge. He was our most important player for a long period of time.”