One of the many things Heat players will miss about Shane Battier when he retires after the season — his ability and willingness to intercept opposing coach’s play calls and inform his teammates before the play is run.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel revealed there was a cat-and-mouse game unfolding behind the scenes in the Eastern Conference finals, with Vogel trying to “hide” his play calls from Battier.
Battier said he has relayed the Spurs’ play calls to teammates several times during these Finals but said it’s more challenging with coach Gregg Popovich because “he has about 500 plays.”
Battier said he has been intercepting play calls “since college [at Duke]. It’s something [coach Mike Krzyzewski] coached us on. I think it’s effective. Half the time, I may not know what the call is, but if the opponent thinks I know what’s going to happen, doubt creeps in.
“Aside from little wrinkles, there are very few secrets in NBA playoff basketball play-calling. For the most part, I think it’s an effective strategy. If I was ever a coach, I would tell my players to do the same thing.”
Battier said he has become skilled at doing it by “studying everything pretty diligently. I try to verse myself in hand gestures, key words, audibles. I try to know it all.”
Vogel and Battier disagree about how many players do it.
“Every team has one or two guys who wait for play calls and echo that,” Vogel said. “I’ve seen [Heat assistant coach] Juwan Howard doing it. I did that. That was my job when I was an assistant coach every year I was with Jim O’Brien.”
But Battier said it’s unusual for players to do it because “it takes work, and most players don’t have the energy to put into the scouting. They’re worried about their own plays.”
How helpful is it?
“I couldn’t quantify, but it’s like having the answers to the test,” Battier said.
“Wouldn’t you like having the answers to the test before you take it or while you’re taking it?”
Ray Allen said Battier’s acumen for deciphering play calls makes a difference.
“It helps you have a pro-active defense,” Allen said. “You can jump in front of screens. Shane is a like a coach on the sidelines. He will say who the ball is going to, from the court or the sidelines.”
Battier said no opposing coach has voiced displeasure about him doing it, and Vogel said: “Shane’s a great guy. I would never be annoyed with him.”
As for Erik Spoelstra, “I don’t think he minds me doing it,” Battier said.
“His philosophy is a little different. He’s more about Miami Heat system. That takes precedence over what the other team is going to do. But you only help your team if you know what’s coming at you.”
THIS AND THAT• Heat players bristle when anyone suggests that they didn’t have a particularly taxing path to the Finals.
“There’s no such thing as an easy road,” Chris Bosh told one reporter. When the reporter said, “It’s the East, though,” Bosh shot back: “It’s the playoffs, though. You have to play the game to understand that.”
But ABC’s Jeff Van Gundy said the Heat “really weren’t tested” before the Finals because of “the weakened state of the Eastern Conference.”• Van Gundy surprisingly said off air that “I don’t look at [James’] career in Miami as being any more successful than his time in Cleveland. He’s just surrounded with better players, weaker conference.” James lost in his only NBA Finals appearance for Cleveland. He entered these Finals having gone 2-1 in Finals series with the Heat.