For the past two years, Shane Battier has dropped several not-so-subtle hints that this season will be the last of his career.
Saturday at Madison Square Garden he delivered one more.
“This building means a lot to me,” Battier said after his 16-point effort against the Knicks. “I’ve played in this building a lot over the years, and this may be my last trip to Madison Square Garden. I don’t know who started that, but I wanted to make the most of it.”
Battier joked that his retirement is only a “rumor,” but it’s no secret he is approaching this season like it may be his last as a professional basketball player. (After all, Battier is the one who started those rumors.)
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And so he wanted to show that iconic arena his best effort if indeed it was his final 48 minutes at MSG. Battier’s points total in the Heat’s 106-91 victory was a season high and his defensive intensity against Carmelo Anthony was playoff worthy.
“I thank Mr. Wilson, my sixth-grade wrestling teacher,” Battier said. “It’s a true story. I didn’t play basketball for Derby Middle School. I wrestled and I was Birmingham city champion, 135-pound weight class. So, Mr. Wilson, thank you. It paid off tonight — arm bars, half Nelsons, it was MMA-ish.”
Not coincidentally, the Michigan native’s refocused effort was a small part of a larger theme for the Heat. It took four times to get a victory in the boroughs this season (five if you include a preseason loss to the Nets), but the Heat on Saturday finally offered New York a glimpse of the team that has won back-to-back NBA titles and not a roster filled with aging players constantly hounded with nagging injuries.
“The way we played tonight is the way we want to play going forward,” said LeBron James, who scored at least 30 points for second game in a row and third time in his last four. “At the same time, we want to watch film on Monday and see ways we can get better and go into the Detroit game with the same mindset — use this is a springboard.
“It’s February. We understand that and we understand that we need to start playing more consistent basketball for a long period of time.”
The Heat’s 27-game winning streak last season began in Toronto on the day of the Super Bowl. The team defeated the Raptors at Air Canada Centre and then watched the big game at a nearby sports bar. This year, Ray Allen is hosting the team’s Super Bowl party at his house.
Battier delivered an inspiring speech to his teammates after last year’s Super Bowl and it helped carry them to the end of March without a loss. With the backdrop of his retirement framing this year speech, it’s safe to say he’ll deliver more galvanizing words on Sunday if the moment is right.
“It’s time,” Battier said.
Both off and on the court.
If Battier isn’t a team leader among the Heat’s collection of stars, he is certainly respected, and his performance against the Knicks called for special recognition from James. James congratulated Battier after the game with a handshake and then thanked him.
“I shook his hand last and told him he was the reason we performed this way,” James said. “He came out with an aggressive mindset not only defensively, which we have become accustomed to seeing, but offensively as well.”