Two teams of young men playing Penn Relays basketball could take one of its turns on the play of a pair of guys with gray in whatever hair remains above their neck.
Oklahoma City guard Derek Fisher wears 37 because that’s how many years he’s been on this Earth, only seemingly a few years short of how many years he’s been in the NBA. As the Heat prove, superstars alone don’t win championships. It’s no accident that Kobe Bryant is one thread that runs through the Lakers five NBA titles this century. Nor is it an accident that Fisher’s another, sandwiching time with Utah.
Shane Battier’s 33 years old with 10 years of NBA life behind him, none of which has ended in an NBA title. Battier’s the kind of player the Heat has loved in the Pat Riley era — experienced, savvy on defense, just enough offense to justify him touching the ball at that end of the court.
Of the supporting players to the Heat’s Big Three, it’s Battier who has stepped forward the past three games with the most consistent contributions. Sunday, he had only nine points, but they were as well-placed as his three rebounds and one steal.
Battier, who started 10 games in the regular season, has started the past 10 playoff games for the Heat and 14 overall in the postseason. It has earned him 41:45 of game time in Game 1, 41:50 in Game 2 and 35:07 in Game 3.
When the Heat, up 88-85 with 30 seconds left in Sunday’s Game 3, got lucky that Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook bricked a wide open three-pointer, it was Battier who grabbed the rebound to begin the end for the Thunder. And in the first half, once Oklahoma City started clamping down on the Heat inside, he hit two clutch shots to put the Heat ahead at halftime.
His season-long 33.9 shooting percentage from three-point range made him an offensive liability, one of the reasons for the Heat’s inconsistency at that end.
Suddenly, in his first NBA Finals games, the sophisticate from Duke channeled the Hick From French Lick. Battier’s three-point shots have fallen at a Larry Bird rate, 4 of 6 in Game 1, 5 of 7 in Game 2, 2 for 2 in Game 3. That’s 11 of 15, 73.3 percent.
The Heat was down 41-38 in the second quarter, having made no field goals more than arm’s length from the rim when Battier drained a three to tie the game. On the Heat’s last possession of the half, he did it again and the Heat went up 47-43 on its way to a 47-46 halftime lead.
But Battier’s biggest moment might have been at the Heat’s near nadir, down 65-56 in the third quarter. He drew a foul on Serge Ibaka while firing a three, then hit all three free throws. On the verge of going down by double digits again, the Heat trailed by only six and were off on a 15-2 run to end the quarter.