- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 5, 2012

MIAMI (AP) - Chris Bosh is back for the Miami Heat.

Bosh checked in with 5:06 remaining in the opening quarter in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night, the first minutes for the All-Star forward since he missed nine playoff games with a strained lower abdominal muscle.

The Heat decided before the game that Bosh would play off the bench, something he had done only previous 12 times in his career, all those during his rookie season with the Toronto Raptors. Bosh got a loud ovation when his face was shown on the overhead scoreboard during the national anthem, and the crowd stood and roared when he walked to the scorer’s table to check into the game.

“He doesn’t have to be the Chris Bosh that he was seven weeks ago,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before the game. “We can build up to that. He just has to give us solid minutes and help our rotation get worked out.”

Bosh began light on-court workouts about a week ago and participated with teammates in Miami’s shootaround practice on Tuesday morning. His return comes at a crucial time, with the East title series knotted at two games apiece.

Spoelstra said he wasn’t worried about the notion that weaving Bosh back into the rotation would be problematic, even with the stakes so high. And Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t think Miami would struggle with that, either.

Rivers said if the Celtics had a situation where some of his key players, like Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen or Rajon Rondo, had missed time but could play in a Game 5 of a tied-up playoff series, it’d be an easy call.

“I would do it. I think I would always do it,” Rivers said. “I mean, listen, if Kevin, Paul, Ray, Rondo were out and they could play tonight and they hadn’t played, I’d play `em. I wouldn’t even hesitate. I don’t think really coaches hesitate on that. And number one, Bosh hasn’t been out that long. It’s not like he’s been out two months and he’s just coming back. He’s missed, what, seven, eight games, nine games? That’s not that long.”

Bosh got hurt late in the first half of Game 1 of a second-round series against Indiana on May 13. He did not play in the second half of that game, and in the nine postseason games that followed, Miami went 5-4.

Bosh averaged 18 points and 7.9 rebounds in the regular season. He averaged 14.7 points and 6.8 rebounds in six playoff games before getting hurt.

“It was encouraging this past week,” Spoelstra said. “He’s able to do some more activity on the court. The last two days he’s been able to do real basketball work.”

The final audition came about 90 minutes before game time, when Bosh went through his usual game-night warmup session. Spoelstra’s decision was announced by the team not long afterward.

Miami’s offense is far more effective when Bosh plays, and the Heat said they were hoping his mere presence would at least somewhat occupy Garnett and other Boston defenders. Heat guard Dwyane Wade said without Bosh on the floor, the Celtics have been able to do things against him that they wouldn’t typically attempt.

“He’s looked great the last couple days that we’ve gotten to see him,” Heat forward LeBron James, the NBA’s reigning MVP, said Tuesday before the word came that Bosh would play. “He looks comfortable with what we’ve been able to do. But I think we all know that a shootaround or a walk-through practice is totally different than game time.”

The Celtics were not being caught off-guard. Bosh has been in their scouting report since the series started.

“He’s another big scoring threat for them, a guy who can really put up some good numbers on any given night,” Pierce said. “He stretches the floor with his shooting and he can drive the ball, so it’s definitely something you’ve got to be aware of.”

Bosh’s return came on a day tinged with tragedy for his family. Miami Beach police said a masseuse collapsed at Bosh’s home and was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital on Monday night. Police did not find any signs of foul play, and Bosh and his wife Adrienne Bosh released a statement through the team expressing sadness for the masseuse’s family.

“Last evening, a massage therapist that we have used for some time, arrived at our home to provide massage therapy,” read the statement. “Shortly after she arrived, she fainted and lost consciousness. We called 911 and emergency personnel arrived at our home shortly thereafter. They took her to Mount Sinai Hospital, where she passed away. Our hearts go out to her family. We are very sorry for their loss.”


Follow Tim Reynolds on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds



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