No one on the Miami Heat receives more verbal abuse from fellow teammates than Mario Chalmers. Though the mistake-prone guard often has it coming, Chalmers has become somewhat the resident punching bag for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But after delivering Game 4’s most critical bucket in the final minute en route to 25 points, it is Chalmers who’s getting the last, well, yell.
“That kid is not afraid of any moment,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “You can’t teach that.”
AmericanAirlines Arena was brought to a panic-stricken hush when LeBron James was ominously carried off the court with 4:05 left in the game and the Heat only up by two points. Instead of joining in the arena’s sudden exasperation, Chalmers grabbed Wade by the jersey and gave his captain an impromptu pep talk.
“Find me,” Chalmers remembers telling Wade. “Let’s put the dagger in them.”
And sure enough, with James sidelined, Wade found him and Chalmers ended up scoring Miami’s final five points to lead it to victory. Chalmers tallied just five points in his previous two games combined.
Judging by his résumé, Chalmers lives for moments like Tuesday’s. This dates all the way to his high school days when he won back-to-back Alaskan state championships. He then followed up those banner-raising seasons with an overtime-inducing 3-pointer in the 2007-08 NCAA championship that immortalized him in Kansas Jayhawks lore. And now Chalmers might be the biggest reason the Miami Heat are one win from winning an NBA championship rather than tied up 2-2 to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
You could say Chalmers was due. That’s what his teammates told him throughout the day leading up to Tuesday’s big game. He entered Game 4 missing 13 of his last 15 shots, prompting the Thunder to make a subtle adjustment, but one that Chalmers took personally as an insult. The Thunder’s move? Save Kevin Durant from foul trouble by hiding him on Chalmers.
“Yeah, I took that as a little sign of disrespect,” Chalmers said. “Even though my offense wasn’t clicking three games in the series, I wanted to step up for my team.”
Though the Heat believed Chalmers was ripe for a breakout game, the team also created their own luck by trusting Chalmers to take advantage of the Thunder’s game plan. Multiple times throughout the game, Durant shaded off Chalmers on the perimeter and Chalmers made him pay. Durant doubled James and Chalmers drive the lane untouched for a floater. Durant doubled Chris Bosh and Chalmers nailed a wide-open 3-pointer.
No shot was bigger than his layup with 44 seconds remaining in a one-possession game. After catching a pass from Wade on the wing, Chalmers juked Russell Westbrook with a simple jab step and blew right by him to the paint. There was only one problem: the league’s leading shot-blocker Serge Ibaka was waiting for him at the rim. Instead of shying away from the play, Chalmers went right at him and squeezed a swooping layup to put the Heat up by five points.
Even with James out of the picture, the Thunder never recovered from Chalmers' knockout layup off the glass.
“You know, when one of our leaders [is] down, I have to step up,” Chalmers said.
In some ways, the Heat aren’t surprised at all that Chalmers stepped up. This is a guy that has won at every level until now and there’s no denying that the winning has fed his ego. It’s no secret that Wade and James have knocked him down a few pegs with some harsh words on the court, but Chalmers doesn’t let it take away from his assertive game.
“No matter what, no matter how tough we are on him, he actually thinks he’s the best player on this team and that’s a gift and a curse,” Wade said. “Tonight it was a gift.”
Many people forget that Chalmers isn’t a natural point guard, but he’s forced to play one for the Heat. When the Heat selected him in the 2008 draft, he was a shooting guard that played off the ball at Kansas and had little experience running an offense -- much less an NBA offense. So when James and Wade get on Chalmers’ case, it comes with the recognition that Chalmers may be the third-best ball-handler on the floor.
Still, the Heat were encouraged by his development to the point that they were willing to offer him a three-year, $12 million deal in the offseason and go into training camp with a rookie from Cleveland State as the only other point guard on the roster. Chalmers responded to the deal by shooting well enough from downtown to be chosen for the 3-point contest at the All-Star weekend. And with his 25 points and 6-for-6 shooting inside the arc on Tuesday he’s earning every dollar of his salary here on the biggest stage and proving he’s not just a 3-point shooter.
"I don't think Mario has gone on TED.com and downloaded inspirational speeches," Shane Battier said. "The kid is a gamer."
After the game, Chalmers was asked why he wasn’t smiling after he led the Heat to victory. Chalmers gave the answer of someone who has won on every level but his current one.
“We’ve got one more win and we want to take care of business,” Chalmers said. “After we get that last win, I can be all smiles.”
Maybe a yell or two as well.