Chris Bosh played the comeback-kid role, LeBron James lorded over the court and Dwyane Wade moved with a veteran’s savvy. But the best shooter of Game 2 of the NBA Finals? Well, that designation goes to Shane Battier.
Call him Mr. June.
Playing in the first NBA Finals of his career, Battier delivered his second 17-point game in a row on Thursday in the Heat’s 100-96 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Signed before the season primarily for his ability as a defender, Battier has emerged as the Heat’s best shooter of the Finals. He has played in71 postseason games throughout his 11-year career. Never before this series had he scored at least 17 points in two consecutive playoff games.
“My teammates did a good job of finding me,” Battier said. “I owe a lot to LeBron, Dwyane and Chris. They command so much attention.
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“The fourth and fifth option on the floor, they just don’t get a lot of attention.”
That modest explanation might account for two or three of Battier’s open looks in Game 2. But Battier was 5 of 7 from three-point range. In the first two games of the Finals, he’s 9 of 13 from long distance. He’s scoring points at a career-high clip. You’ve got to go back to January 2007 to find a pair of back-to-back games when Battier scored at least 17 points.
Battier had two three-pointers in the first quarter Thursday night and three in the first half. When Thunder forward Kevin Durant made his first three-pointer of the game with 6:21 left in the third quarter, Battier answered it with his fourth triple of the game on the Heat’s next possession.
Then came the shot of the night: Battier’s 26-foot three-pointer from the top of the key, which banked off the backboard to give the Heat a seven-point lead with five minutes left in the game. Defended by Russell Westbrook, Battier fell to the ground after the shot, got to his feet and backpedaled with his tongue poking out the side of his mouth.
Because, well, a tongue in the cheek just wouldn’t have done that shot justice.
Battier has made 64.3 percent of the Heat’s 14 three-pointers in the series. Meanwhile, the Heat’s other designated three-point shooters, Mike Miller and James Jones, are a combined 0 of 1 from behind the arc. Miller has been limited with various injuries, and Jones was scratched from Game 1 because of a migraine headache.
“It really opens it up,” Bosh said of Battier’s range. “It puts pressure on the defense and makes them think about it a little bit more and eventually we can start attacking — get free throws and layups.”
While Battier’s 34 points in two games has kept the Thunder’s defense spread thin and opened driving lanes for James and Wade, it’s Battier’s acumen and versatility as a defender that his teammates gushed about after Game 2.
“We like to say LeBron guards one through five. Shane does in a sense, too,” Wade said. “He’s a great defender, he’s a great team defender, and he’s been big for us all year. And this time of year is what he lives for, what we love him for.”
Battier started Game 2 banging against Thunder center Kendrick Perkins inside the paint, and his work against Durant has given James time to catch his breath. James has played more minutes than any other player in the series.
“He’s a big part of why we’re here today and competing for a championship,” James said. “He’s meant a lot for our team, he’s meant a lot to me, being able to guard guys as well as the top scorers.”