Battier has shook things up
MIAMI - Shane Battier has emerged as more than an X-factor in the NBA Finals. His production lately for the Heat has been paramount and just stunning.
After scoring 17 points in each of the first two games, Battier added 9 significant points in Miami’s 91-85 Game 3 victory over the Thunder Sunday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. He canned two more 3-pointers and then converted three free throws after being fouled during a key third-quarter run.
Battier averaged a career-low 4.8 points during the regular season and shot a career-worst 38.7 percent from the field, giving no hint of future playoff heroics.
He was signed by the Heat to be an energy defender and to drain the occasional 3-point shot. But he did little of the latter during the regular season (33.9 percent). In the Finals, he has canned 14 of 19 shots, including 11 3-pointers. His banked-in 3-pointer late in Game 2 gave the Heat an insurmountable 7-point lead.
On Sunday, he did not score until the 1:51 mark of the second quarter, splashing a 3-pointer to tie the game at 41. With 22.9 seconds left in the half, he hit his second 3-pointer to give the Heat a 47-43 lead, improving to 11 for 15 from beyond the arc in the series.
With the Thunder leading, 65-56, with 4:33 left in the third, Battier was fouled shooting a corner 3-pointer and sank all three free throws, the beginning of a 13-2 run by the Heat to end the quarter.
“Well, shots are there,’’ he said. “I don’t think I’m a priority on other teams’ scouting reports. Coming into the series I knew there would be looks; got to make them count. You feel fortunate just to be in the NBA, and you feel even more fortunate to have a chance to play in the Finals, something every little kid dreams about. Now that we’re here, we just want to make the most of the opportunity.’’
Battier, the sixth overall pick in 2001, has been a role player nearly all of his career, but Miami gave him his first legitimate shot at winning an NBA title. His play was disappointing throughout the season, but he drained four 3-pointers in the Game 7 win over the Celtics and the momentum has carried into the Finals.
“He’s stepped up and made shots,’’ said Thunder coach Scott Brooks prior to Game 3. “I think about two or three of his threes - each game we lost him in transition by getting back, but that’s the beauty of having three very talented players. You have to somehow pick your poison, and a lot of times it doesn’t work out.’’
Here and now
Just four years ago, in their first season in Oklahoma City, the Thunder lost 15 of their first 16 games and fired coach P.J. Carlesimo, replacing him with Brooks, an assistant coach. The Thunder have built through the draft, astute signings, and trades such as the acquisition of Kendrick Perkins from the Celtics.
With such a young core - Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are 23, James Harden is 22 - the Thunder may be frequent visitors to the NBA Finals over the next decade. But such talk angers Durant, who said he has no intention of taking this trip for granted.
“That’s the one thing I hate is when people say that,’’ he said before Game 3. “That’s how I try to take advantage of it or why I don’t take advantage of it, because we’re young, most of the guys are 22, 23, and people are going to say we’ll be here next year or the year after that. But nothing is guaranteed. With the way this league is going, so many great teams, you never know.
“So this is a great opportunity for us. We have to seize the moment and be ready. You know, just like I say, you never know. Injuries might play a factor the next few years or whatever. You never know what happens in this league. I really can’t say that or be that arrogant to say we’ll be here next year for sure or the next few years for sure. We’ve got to take advantage of this moment.’’
Bosh starts again
Chris Bosh was in the starting lineup for the second consecutive game Sunday and recorded his second straight double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds in 37 minutes. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said Bosh no longer has any minute restrictions after he missed nine games with a strained abdominal muscle . . . The AmericanAirlines Arena crowd donned T-shirts that read “Beat New York, Indiana, Boston, OKC.’’ The first three teams were crossed out . . . Brooks said he has no intention of changing his starting lineup after Perkins was ineffective and Nick Collison flourished in Game 1. Perhaps there was a reason for that. Collison picked up three quick fouls in Game 3 and finished with 2 points and four fouls in 13 minutes. Perkins, meanwhile, collected his first double-double of the playoffs with 10 points and 12 rebounds in 34 minutes . . . In Game 2, Harden was 7-for-11 shooting for 21 points. In Games 1 and 3, he’s a combined 4 for 16 for 14 points . . . After going 15 of 24 from the foul line Sunday, the Thunder are 54 for 77 (70.1 percent) in the series.