Battier Leads a Increasingly Productive Supporting Cast
There is no more maligned group in the NBA over the past two seasons than the offensively inconsistent supporting cast of the Miami Heat. Shane Battier was brought in to change those fortunes around, but shot only 33 percent from three during the regular season.
His struggles from downtown have carried over to the postseason and Battier had hit just two shots from the perimeter in the first four games against the Indiana Pacers. In Tuesday’s Game 5 victory, the veteran came alive with two triples in the first two minutes of action, finishing with four threes on his way to 13 points.
A belief in his abilities kept Battier from pressing during his struggles and left him unfazed by his breakout game.
“I’ve averaged a three made for my career,” said Battier. “You don’t overreact. You take the shot. If it’s there, you hit it. You let it fly. It’s like a golfer. A golfer doesn’t think about his swing.”
While Battier was the greatest example of a role player stepping up, supplementing LeBron James and Dwyane Wade was a collective effort. Udonis Haslem followed up his resurgent Game 4 with ten points and Mario Chalmers pulled down a career high 11 rebounds.
Overall, Miami mustered 34 points out of their bench and while that was partially aided by more minutes for reserves in the midst of a blowout, the production was nonetheless encouraging.
“That makes any team tough in the playoffs when you get contributions from third, fourth, and fifth guys,” said Battier. “(Chalmers) was also fantastic tonight with a career high in rebounds. We know when we get contributions like that we’re a solid team.”
Fast Break Spread Attack Returns
At the onset of the season, the storyline attached to the Heat involved head coach Erik Spoelstra’s trip to visit the Oregon football program. Seeing the Ducks quick paced spread offense had inspired him to add some new wrinkles to his playbook and the up and down play of Miami early helped them real off wins in eight of their first nine games.
Then came the realities of a lockout condensed 66 game season and out of necessity, they slowed the tempo. However, in the last six quarters, the Heat has fueled a series comeback by turning up the pace again.
Many say it reminds them of the unhindered style Miami played in December and January, including Spoelstra.
“We’ve really been trying to build that and emphasize that for the last six weeks, eight weeks even if it doesn’t seem to be so,” said Spoelstra. “It’s tough to play at the pace that we would like to in the playoffs. We know it’s our strength.”
In Game 5 alone, the Heat outscored the Pacers on the fast break by a 22-2 margin. Miami believes that this style has been resuscitated by success coming on the defensive end of the floor.
“When we get stops and we get rebounds they crash a lot of guys so we’re able to get out and go,” said Wade. “When myself or LeBron especially rebound the ball, it makes our fast breaks that much better.”
Intensity Level Reaches a Pinnacle
Band-Aids have become the unofficial symbol of this second round series. After the Heat gave away Haslem Band-Aid stickers in honor of the co-captain taking an elbow to the eye in Game 4, Pacers’ players Danny Granger and David West both had to leave the game with injuries and three unrelated flagrant fouls shaped an escalating tone of physicality.
Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough kicked the Game 5 chippyness off with an elbow early in the second quarter that gave Wade his own postgame Band-Aid. In retaliation, Haslem shot back a minute later pushing and shoving at Hansbrough’s face.
In the final minutes, Heat backup center Dexter Pittman delivered another elbow in the direction of Pacers’ back up point guard Lance Stephenson. The move was viewed as possible retribution for Stephenson’s choke signal directed at James during Game 3 and all the flagrants have drawn debate as to what punishment the league could hand down.
“There were three really hard fouls in this game and they league will review it,” said Spoelstra. “We thought (Haslem) was making a play on the ball. It’s a physical series. Nobody wants to make it anything more than that. It’s passionate, but nobody has gone over the line.”
Consensus says Pittman will likely be suspended, but the opinion on Haslem and Hansbrough is mixed. Even among Pacers, Granger felt that Haslem should miss a game while West said that the play was “fair”.
Whatever the result, the NBA should hand down a decision by Wednesday afternoon. Even if the league is punitive, players on both sides do not expect any intensity letdown.
“We have to understand that they are going to come out in their home with a lot of energy and effort,” said Wade. “We can’t start out a game like we started Game 4, you know come out and have five turnovers. We have to rebound the ball. If we let them out-rebound us early, it’s going to be a tough one.”