People were ready to bury us, planning our wake, the Heats Shane Battier said Saturday. When your belief is rewarded at the bleakest time, your belief gets stronger. We overcame some major, major, major ramifications. Our confidence grew there. Theres a difference in us, but it is unspoken. No need to speak. Thats the ultimate measure of confidence.
Battier works as a symbol for what has happened to this team over the past year as the players have developed comfort and confidence in the system, in the coach, in each other. Last season, his first on the team, Battier shot 34 percent from three-point range, the second-worst efficiency of his 14-year career. This year, he is at 43 percent, which is only by far the best efficiency of his career. That 10 percent difference is seismic in this sport. It is the difference this season in efficiency between LeBron James and Ersan Ilyasova. And it defies the aging process. And heres how it happens:
Last year, I had a lot of confidence struggles, Battier says. I was thrust into the circus on the run, and I battled myself, and I had to find a way to stop feeling sorry for myself. I had a nightmarish house-rental situation and never felt settled on or off the court. Im at my worst when my routine is interrupted. It is a character flaw. But now I fit here. I have peace in my life. This is a much better way to live. Im settled.
He knows where he is supposed to be, in other words, and so do all his teammates, and there is comfort in that kind of confidence. It is why James, Wade and Bosh, great as theyve always been, have never made a higher percentage of their shots than they have this year, working in concert like the parts inside a grandfather clock. Compare this to what is happening with Miamis likely next opponent in Brooklyn, where Gerald Wallace is saying, My confidence is totally gone. I think I lost the confidence of the coaching staff and my teammates.
The confidence of this Miami team is so top-to-bottom that Spoelstra can admit now without feeling threatened that he totally failed LeBron his first year in Miami by not tailoring his system more creatively to his gifts. You dont hear that kind of admission often in this muscled world, but when you do hear it, it certainly isnt from the insecure. It is very hard to do a job well while scared. What has Spoelstra done since? Well, he has gone from failing to greedy. He is not even satisfied with merely winning the championship. He dared with spacing and system to change the team that was good enough to win the championship as it was last year. He knows this team was built to dominate not a season but an era.
We believed last year, Bosh says. We believe more this year.
The best basketball team in the world is also now the most confident.
Better than ever, in other words, even though it was already the best.
Good luck with that, Milwaukee.