Thunder has to worry about hot Shane Battier, too
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org June 15, 2012 11:24PM
James Harden and the Thunder have to clamp down on hot-shooting Heat forward Shane Battier. | Robyn Beck~Getty Images
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G1: at Thunder 105, Heat 94
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Tuesday: at Heat, 8 p.m.
Thursday: at Heat, 8 p.m.
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Updated: July 17, 2012 12:52PM
MIAMI — A rededicated LeBron James, a rejuvenated Dwyane Wade and a healthy Chris Bosh are obvious problems for the Oklahoma City Thunder and coach Scott Brooks.
But one other issue has popped up in Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals that might not have been prominent in the scouting report: If Shane Battier keeps hitting 69 percent of his three-pointers, the Thunder is in trouble.
Battier’s hot shooting from long range in Game 1 (4-for-6 three-point shooting, 17 points) was an easily overlooked annoyance because the Thunder recovered to win the game and Battier wasn’t a factor in the fourth quarter, missing his only three-point attempt.
But Brooks and his coaching staff might have to revisit the situation after Battier bombed away again in Game 2. The 11-year veteran from Duke made 5 of 7 three-pointers and 6 of 8 shots overall to score 17 points again.
And this time it held up, as Battier banked in a three-pointer from the top of the key with 5:05 to go as the Miami Heat held on for a 100-96 victory that tied the series at 1 heading into Game 3 on Sunday at American Airlines Arena.
What makes Battier’s offensive contribution particularly problematic is that it’s a bonus for the Heat. Battier is a ‘‘hustle-defense-rebound’’ guy who annoys Kevin Durant by face-guarding him on jump shots, takes charges and keeps a level head in tight situations.
Oklahoma City can handle all that. It’s the three-point shooting that will beat the Thunder. Battier is a career 38.1 percent three-point shooter. He shot 33.9 percent in the regular season. It figures he can’t stay this hot — or this lucky — forever.
But on this team, you never know. Battier made 4 of 9 three-pointers in Game 7 against the Boston Celtics. He hit 2 of 4 threes in Game 6. So after hitting 29.5 percent of his three-point attempts (21-for-71) in the Heat’s first 16 playoff games, Battier has hit 57.7 percent (15-for-26) in the last four.
It could be that Battier is just a player who loves the big stage. He was a star at Duke, where he helped the Blue Devils win the national championship in 2001. But he has spent most of his NBA career on mediocre teams. He didn’t win a playoff series in his first seven seasons. This was the first time he had played in the conference finals. When he faced the Thunder in the second round of the playoffs last year, he was 2-for-12 on three-pointers. Now he’s 9-for-13.
The Heat has struggled for two years with the Big Three to find the right lower-salaried niche players to make it work. Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem have had their moments. But Battier might be the one who puts Miami over the top because he contributes in so many ways. He’s the A.J. Pierzynski of the NBA playoffs — an instigator who provokes you into the muck but comes away clean as a whistle. And opponents hate him for it.
Game 3 on Sunday could be the ultimate test. Battier is 0-for-16 on three-pointers in Game 3s this postseason. But those were on the road. Now he’s at home. It seems like everything is going his way. That’s why Battier might be the guy the Thunder should be worried most about. When you’re hot, you’re hot.