MIAMI -- Doubt spares nobody. Not even a two-time NBA champion, former NCAA tournament champion, former NCAA Player of the Year, former Academic All-American of the Year and recipient of a seven-figure salary.
The doubt took hold of Shane Battier last month when he fell out of Erik Spoelstra’s rotation and barely played in the month of April. Doubt whether he, at 35, can still play in this league.
“Me? Oh, yeah,” Battier said from his locker after the Miami Heat’s 107-86 victory over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. “You never know.”
Battier was reinserted into the Heat’s starting lineup after playing a total of 2 minutes, 4 seconds in the first round against the Charlotte Bobcats. Battier won a championship as a Duke Blue Devil down the road in Durham, North Carolina, but he was reduced to garbage-time duty against the Bobcats. In the four-game sweep, he received three DNP-Coaching Decisions.
After not playing a meaningful minute in about a month without an injury excuse, Battier found out on Monday afternoon at Miami’s practice that he’d start Game 1.
“Time to go to work,” Battier said. “It wasn’t like I was scared of the moment or overly excited. I just said, ‘OK, it’s time to do my homework on Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce.’ I’ve been doing that my entire career. That much I can control.”
But the butterflies, the doubt, the insecurities -- he couldn’t control those ahead of Game 1.
“Ask my wife,” Battier said. “I was nervous.”
Rust was a big storyline heading into Tuesday’s Game 1, but Battier drilled his first shot of the game, a 3-pointer set up by LeBron James. On the night, Battier finished with eight points in 26 minutes and largely handled his assignment against Pierce and Johnson. It’s not much, but it was all Battier needed to ease his worries.
“Doubt is what drives me, the nervousness that I don’t have it anymore,” Battier said. “There’s nothing a coach or anyone can say to me that’s more powerful than my own fear that I can’t do it anymore.”
It’s not the first time Battier has let the doubt sneak in since joining James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. When he inked a three-year deal after the lockout in 2011 and struggled for months to find his form, the nerves got the best of him. He finished the season shooting 38.7 percent from the floor and 33.9 percent from downtown -- both career-lows.
“I had insecurities, no question,” Battier said of his first season in 2011-12. “This place, more so than any other place that I’ve been, your insecurities rear its ugly head. It’s not for everybody.”
The Heat, of course, won the title in 2012 after Spoelstra went unconventional and put Battier at the 4 in the starting lineup in the NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Battier responded by hitting 15 3-pointers in five games.
“Doubt has been a driving force since high school,” Battier said. “In high school, when I won national player of the year, I thought maybe I’m just a good high school player and I can’t play at college. And then when I won college player of the year, I thought, 'Well, maybe I’m just a good college player. Maybe I’ll be a bust.'"
The doubt came back again last postseason when he received his first DNP-CD in Game 7 of the Pacers series. Following that game, he went to a local bar and sang karaoke with his wife to fight the doubt. Two weeks later, he had his number called again in Game 7 and hit six 3-pointers in the series clincher.
“I’m 35 years old and I have two titles and now ... you always have to prove yourself, prove it to yourself.”
The journey is not over for Battier. Far from it. This is but one game and it was far from his best. But in this series with the Brooklyn Nets that features former All-Stars who are all nearing the twilight of their careers, it meant a little more to start and perform at a high level. Pierce, 36, and Kevin Garnett, 37, combined for as many points in Game 1 as Battier (eight).
“It comes and goes,” Battier said without specifying what "it" is. “You just never know when.”