MIAMI, Fla. — Chris Bosh is often the last thought when mentioning key players for the Miami Heat.
He is fine playing in the shadows of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Just don't treat him as a No. 3 option, or else.
"If you leave me open and treat me like I'm third, then I will have a good night,' said Bosh, the Heat's 6-foot-11 center. "And I'll become a No. 1 [option]."
Bosh gives the Heat a key element — something crucial to be considered an elite team in the NBA these days. A third All-Star-caliber player has almost become a necessity to have any chance of winning a championship.
"I know you need two [All-Stars] for sure," Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Three is nice, and four is better."
That thinking is why Rivers said it was a "gutsy move" for the Oklahoma City Thunder to trade guard James Harden to the Houston Rockets days before the season started.
It broke up one of the league's best trios, leaving Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook trailing the Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers in the eyes of most.
The thought is the Thunder, despite making the NBA Finals last year, will be unable to keep pace with the All-Star stacked teams. In the offseason, the Lakers added Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to play alongside Kobe Bryant.
"[Harden] was part of the team, a very huge part of their success," Bosh said.
"You have to be deep nowadays to compete for a title. Everybody is making a big deal about it now, but I think it's always been like that. You can look at each and every team, even the Spurs' dynasty. They had Tim [Duncan], David Robinson, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker. You have to be deep. "Showtime" [the Lakers] back in the '80s, they had like four guys. Nothing has really changed."
Last season, the Heat became the first three-All-Star team to win the title since the Celtics in 2008. The Lakers won consecutive championships with Bryant and Pau Gasol, and the Mavericks defeated the Heat in 2011 behind Dirk Nowitzki, but it appears the league is shifting toward top-heavy teams.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he is unsure if it will become a trend, because he remembers the Detroit Pistons winning with a cast of role players in 2004.
Still, that did not stop teams such as the Brooklyn Nets last offseason from trying to acquire a version of the Big Three. After signing Joe Johnson to pair with Deron Williams, the Nets' attempt fell just short when Howard was traded to the Lakers instead of the Nets.
"Possibly, but I don't know," Spoelstra said. "Boston had that formula before us … It's proven that there's different ways to win, different teams. It's not that far of a generation ago that Detroit was able to win a title and go to the Finals. They didn't have a team constructed as a Big Three."
Bosh showed the effectiveness of having a high-caliber No. 3 scorer in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's victory against the Celtics.
The Heat held a double-digit lead most of the second half before James missed the final nine minutes because of cramping. Boston trimmed the 19-point lead to four when Bosh took over with less than two minutes remaining.
He scored the final seven points to help the Heat stave off the comeback.
"I try to make my teammates better, and that includes Dwyane and LeBron and vice versa. We need each other. It's a give-and-take relationship. You have to give a little to get a little back. I'm trying to win a championship. Like I've told people before, I've averaged 20 points a game but it was on a bad team [Toronto]. We made the playoffs a couple years, but nothing really comes from that."
Wade stopped short of calling it a necessity but the presence of three top-tier players continues to separate the Heat from the rest of the league. He thought back to the difficulty of playing on a 15-win team in 2007, saying "I've played before where all five guys were looking at me. That makes it a harder game."
Now, the Heat are able to compete even if Wade or James has an off night.
"I'm not going to say you have to, but you see a lot of teams are trying to get that," Wade said.
"I think you do know through history the guys who've won, to win a championship it has to be three guys playing at a certain level, especially scoring the ball. You've got to have at least guys over 15 [points a game]. You have to have that dynamic."