We've seen Bosh mature but now it's time to perform

Toronto Raptors center Chris Bosh, left, battles Chicago Bulls center Aaron Gray, right, for a...

Toronto Raptors center Chris Bosh, left, battles Chicago Bulls center Aaron Gray, right, for a rebound during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game at the United Center in Chicago, Wednesday, April 16, 2008 .(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

STEVE SIMMONS

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

This is the time when the stars come out to play. This is the time for Chris Bosh to take another step on his NBA journey.

Away from the court, we've watched him grow from boy to man. He came to Toronto young, skinny, uncertain, quiet, occasionally awkward: We've seen his body develop and his confidence and with that his personality.

"I feel like he has been growing up in front of me," said Sam Mitchell, the Raptors' coach. "I've seen his level of maturity grow every day."

Now it's playoff time for the best known and most skilled of the Toronto Raptors. Now, it should be Bosh time.

This has been a season of external growth for Bosh. You can see it in how he handles himself, how he has urged Air Canada Centre fans to make more noise, how he has called out his teammates, how his confidence has grown, how he wound up -- seemingly out of character -- making quirky commercials on YouTube for his all-star candidacy.

Each of those things may be unremarkable on their own: But lump them together and what you find is a 24-year-old who has found his place and his basketball home and is comfortable with both.

All that's missing is playoff success. He didn't have much last spring against the New Jersey Nets. He was supposed to be the guy but he semi- turtled. The veterans from New Jersey -- Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, even Vince Carter -- were there. Bosh was there and then he wasn't.

This isn't a do-over against the Orlando Magic. It's a new year, a new opportunity for Bosh. He wants the ball. He wants to be the star. Now all he has to do is perform.

"I expect Chris to play well, like he has played all year when he has been healthy," Mitchell said. But it has to be more than that. When there's a shot to take to win a game, he has to be the shooter. When there's a defensive stop that needs to be made, he needs to be the stopper. This is what franchise players do. In basketball, more than in any other sport, one man can make the difference.

Last year, against the Nets, Bosh scored five fewer points per game than he managed during the season. The Raptors lost two games in that series by a total of six points. Clearly, in retrospect, that playoff series was winnable.

Last year's Raptors team was more settled, more complete, more confident than the team going into this series with Orlando. If they needed Bosh to be big last year, they need him to be huge now.

And if anything, he's aware -- and has made himself aware -- of the history around him. He knows what the famed draft class of 2003 already has accomplished. He knows that Dwyane Wade, taken one pick after him, already has led the Miami Heat to an NBA championship. He knows that LeBron James, drafted first, already has led the rather wonky Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA final. He knows that before the draft, Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to an NCAA championship. He knows the draft washout, Darko Milicic, wound up with a ring from his rookie season in Detroit.

And he knows, in the only playoff series of his NBA career, he came up, pardon the pun, short.

"I don't read the papers, I don't look at YouTube. I don't concern myself with any of that stuff," Mitchell said. "It had nothing to do with what goes on on the basketball court.

"I've seen (Bosh's) level of maturity increase at practice. Every day at practice he comes in early and works on his game. And when he struggles, he comes back at night and works on his game. To me, that's what men do."

This first round playoff series will inevitably come down to how well Orlando can handle Bosh or how well the Raptors can handle Dwight Howard, without his Superman cape. At least, that's how it's going to be sold and advertised.


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