Commentary

Nothing shakes Chalmers' confidence

Despite a target on his back from his own teammates, guard remains undaunted

Updated: June 21, 2012, 12:14 AM ET
By Israel Gutierrez | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- The most entertaining on-court arguments involving Mario Chalmers -- and in the past two seasons of basketball there are almost more of those than there have been LeBron James dunks -- are the ones in which Chalmers is clearly correct.

Like during the first round in Madison Square Garden when James passed the ball directly to his bench for a turnover while Chalmers was spotted up, wide open, about 10 feet to the left of where the ball ended up.

Somehow, James figured that was Chalmers' fault, and he let him hear about it.

Chalmers, quite used to standing up for himself against James, fired back, essentially telling the best player in the world, "No, no. This one's on you, pal."

Those are the best to watch closely, because somehow, Chalmers will still look like the guilty party. Even an open-and-shut case like that is impossible to win when you're debating basketball with James or Dwyane Wade.

But such is life for Chalmers, the most regular target of piercing stares, angry lectures and pointed fingers -- from his own teammates.

"Usually in basketball, everyone has a big guy on their team that's tall and has some athleticism, and when they don't play with heart or passion, it's usually the big guy that gets dumped on," wise veteran Shane Battier said.

"Here, it's Mario."

It would be easy to feel sorry for Chalmers. Until, of course, you speak to him and realize this isn't the classic case of little brother treatment.

Most little brothers don't have the irrational confidence Chalmers does.

There's a reason James constantly yells at Chalmers, treating him like no other teammate he's ever had.

Because it feels like you have to scream just to have him listen. Even when he does listen, there's no guarantee Chalmers is actually accepting the information.

Perhaps it's because of his history of success, having won two high school state titles in Alaska and a national championship at Kansas highlighted by his overtime-forcing 3-pointer in the championship game. Chalmers has the confidence of a 10-time All-Star.

It makes him reliable in moments where a conscience can be detrimental, but oh, so aggravating in those spots where knowing your limitations would help.

Here's a small taste of how Chalmers sees himself:

During his rookie season -- one in which Chalmers started all 82 games for a playoff-bound Heat team -- a reporter asked Chalmers who he compares his game to.

You'd think a second-round pick with some obvious shortcomings would go the modest route. Given his defensive abilities and penchant for hitting big shots, maybe Derek Fisher is a fair comparison. After all, Fisher's made an enviable career for himself by mostly defending and spotting up.

No, Chalmers didn't say Fisher. He went straight to the top of the charts.

He said Chris Paul.

It's one thing to be a confident player and set high goals for yourself, but Chris freakin' Paul? Let's just say that's a parallel only Chalmers can actually see.

Erik Spoelstra has often felt the wrath of Chalmers' self-assurance.

It basically took the Heat coach three seasons to finally convince Chalmers that he's not as athletic as James or Wade, so hanging in the air to make a pass doesn't work nearly as well when he does it.

Even in this, his fourth season, trusting in Chalmers comes with its Maalox moments.

Like late in the Celtics series when Spoelstra chose to defend Rajon Rondo with Wade, leaving Chalmers with the complicated responsibility of defending Ray Allen.

Did Chalmers know the principles and strategies involved in defending Allen?

"That's a loaded question," Spoelstra said, laughing and never actually bothering to answer said question.

That's where the yelling comes in. Sometimes there's no other way to communicate with a player whose mind says "all-time great," but whose actual game says "slow your roll."

[+] EnlargeMario Chalmers
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty ImagesAfter his huge Game 4, Mario Chalmers was a popular speaker at Wednesday's media gathering.

"No matter what, no matter how tough we are on him, he actually thinks he's the best player on this team," Wade said. "That's a gift and a curse."

The "gift" portion of Chalmers' mentality was on full display in Tuesday's Game 4.

After a rough 0-for-3 start in the opening nine minutes, Chalmers watched from the bench as rookie Norris Cole sparked the Heat's recovery from a 17-point deficit.

But seven seconds after being re-inserted, Chalmers converted a three-point play and two minutes later nailed a 3-point shot.

In the second half, Chalmers scored 19 more points, none more critical than a driving layup with 44 seconds remaining, James on the bench with debilitating cramps and Wade drawing the attention of every Thunder defender. It was effectively the game's most important play, stretching the Heat's tenuous lead from three to five points.

After the game, Chalmers admitted he was insulted by the Thunder defending him with Kevin Durant to keep the three-time scoring champ out of foul trouble.

Only Chalmers would consider being guarded by one of the game's best players as a slight. But you've come to expect that mentality from him.

"Yeah, I took that as a little sign of disrespect," Chalmers said. "For me I worked too hard to be in the position I'm in now. Even though my offense wasn't clicking three games in the series, I wanted to step up for my team, and I was able to do that."

It's no surprise, really, that Chalmers' performances are often uneven. Because his role on the team is irregular.

Being a point guard on a team with James and Wade doesn't equate to being a point guard on any other team.

At times he's asked to simply get out of the way and make shots. Other times, he's relied upon to run the offense. And then there are those times, like in Game 4, when he might as well be wearing the No. 6 jersey, because it's his turn to be a game-changer.

"A lot of times Mario Chalmers doesn't bring the ball up, and he's the point guard," Wade said. "Then there's other times we depend on him to do it so much, and we want him to make plays for us. I'm sure it's confusing at times. He's out of rhythm a lot, but he's a big-game kind of player."

All of it makes for a unique challenge -- one that Chalmers has executed well enough to be one win away from a championship. If the Heat go on to win one of the next three games against the Thunder, Chalmers will sit up there with Jason Williams as the starting point guards on Heat title teams. When blindly picking championship-level point guards, it's safe to say those two names won't come to mind often.

But even with a ring, and even with memorable performances like he had Tuesday night, Chalmers will be best remembered for being the direct target of James' fury.

Privately, LeBron jokingly mocks Chalmers for everything from his sneakers -- Chalmers has a deal with Spalding, which is apparently making shoes now and not just basketballs (who knew?) -- to his taste in food.

Publicly, which is basically limited to the basketball court, you'd think they hated each other.

"I know there's a better way sometimes to express the way I feel on the floor," James said. "But sometimes in the heat of the battle, I feel like he can take it. I know he can take it. That's why I do it that way.

"Rio's one of the toughest guys. He's got a hard shell, so he doesn't let much get to him."

Others on the team have noticed this impenetrable outer shell.

In these playoffs alone, Chalmers has also heard harsh critiques from Wade, Chris Bosh and even Joel Anthony.

When Anthony is yelling at you, you have to know you're an easy target.

"It does stem from love," Battier said. "We all know that when Mario plays well, and he's dialed in, we're a much better team.

"He has a tendency to float sometimes, mentally. I think that just frustrates everybody else and they say, 'Come on. Do you realize how important you are for our team?'"

A lot more folks might notice how important Chalmers is now.

"Mario has that thing," Wade said. "That thing called heart."

That doesn't mean the yelling will stop, though.

So Chalmers might want to invest in those things. Those things called ear plugs.

Israel Gutierrez is an NBA writer for ESPN.com.