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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Battier coming up big for Miami in NBA Finals


MIAMI — Shane Battier is in the NBA Finals for the first time. Maybe it's no coincidence that it's bringing out his best play of the season.

News photo
Rising to the occasion: Miami Heat forward Shane Battier, seen here defending against Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant in the NBA Finals, is proving a tough matchup for the Thunder. AP

Battier has scored 17 points in each of the two finals games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, though that's hardly where the list of recent accomplishments end for the 11-year Duke veteran.

He's scored at least 12 points in three consecutive games for the first time since December 2010. And he's 13 for 22 from 3-point range over that span, a far cry from his 14-for-59 slump that lasted for about six weeks late in the regular season.

"NBA Finals. No use in saving your shots now," Battier said. "Let it fly."

The first points of the 2012 finals?

They came on a 3-pointer by Battier.

The first points of Game 2?

Same thing.

Forget LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for a moment. Battier appears to be perhaps the most problematic matchup for the Thunder, given how he thinks nothing of banging around inside with bigger players defensively, but forces those same bigger guys to stretch to the 3-point line when the Heat have the basketball.

He's been good most of the time, and a little lucky at others. One of the biggest — if not the biggest — shots for Miami in its Game 2 win at Oklahoma City on Thursday night was a 3-pointer that Battier hit with 5:08 left, pushing what had been a rapidly dwindling Heat lead out to 90-83.

Wasn't exactly a shooter's touch — Battier banked it in from about 8 meters away.

But it worked.

"He's been a huge lift," James said. "He's been a huge lift for us. He's shooting the ball extremely well from the outside. He's making plays both offensively and defensively. We're going to need it. We're going to need it. The series is going to be so tight that we're going to need guys to step up, and Shane has been there in the first two games."

The series is knotted at a game apiece, with Game 3 in Miami on Sunday night.

Battier signed a $9 million, three-year contract with the Heat before the season began, announcing his decision on Twitter and by quoting singer Jimmy Buffett. (The two met in Miami at a concert about a month into this season.)

Battier had other offers, but decided all that mattered was being in the best position to chase that still-elusive first championship.

The "role player" tag doesn't bother him. He knows his worth to the Heat — the team's CEO, Nick Arison, was Duke's student manager when Battier played there, and the Arison family had wanted to see Battier in Miami colors for years.

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