- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 12, 2012

MIAMI — Chris Bosh has watched the birth of his son, collapsed to the court in agony with a strained abdominal muscle, seen his team sputter many times during nine games without him, then dealt with the death of a masseuse who was stricken at his home.

And all since this Miami Heat playoff run began.

“I think about those things every day,” Bosh said.

His run of emotional ebbs and flows in recent weeks is on the upswing again. He’s returning to the NBA finals, and if the Heat are going to win it this time Bosh likely will have to play a major role when they take on the Oklahoma City Thunder starting on Tuesday night.

His importance is unquestioned, at least by the Heat.

Where he exactly fits in the rotation these days, that’s still in some doubt. Bosh says it’s “irrelevant” as long as he’s getting minutes.

He didn’t start any of the three games he played in the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics. But with the series — and the entirety of a championship-or-bust season — on the line in the fourth quarter of Game 7, Bosh hit perhaps the most important shot of all, a 3-pointer that helped kickstart what became a 20-6 run to end the game.

Bosh may be viewed as the third wheel of Miami’s Big Three by those on the outside. Within the Heat locker room, maybe no other player is more valued, especially by the other two sides of the superstar Heat triangle, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Chris is big,” James said after Game 7.

“Huge,” Wade added.

“Game ball automatically goes to him,” James continued. “Without his production tonight, we don’t win. … We haven’t had that type of activity, that firepower off the bench since we got here. It’s unique. It’s very unique that CB is coming off the bench, but it may be something great for us.”

For two years, the debate about Bosh’s role on the Heat largely has revolved around him being either a power forward or a center.

Now, it’s between him being a starter or a finisher.

He played the entire fourth quarter of Game 7 against Boston, sans the final few seconds after Heat coach Erik Spoelstra took him out with the outcome decided. Bosh finished with 19 points and eight rebounds - virtually mirroring his regular season averages, and just the fourth time a Heat player put up those numbers in a playoff game as a reserve.

“I just wanted to get out there as soon as possible and contribute to this team,” Bosh said. “That’s all I kept thinking about from the moment I went out against Indiana in the second round. It was very deflating at first, but I just had to keep my mind. That was the biggest challenge that I ever had in my life, to make sure I stay ready, so when the time did come, I would be able to contribute.”

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