Shane Battier's hot hand is no theory
MIAMI -- Shane Battier is the numbers guy, the statistics specialist, the percentages guru.
You talk about basketball as a game, he can make it sound like a science. Every movement has a purpose. Every basket happened because of a minor detail that occurred before it.
He made the term "regression to the mean" almost cool.
So, of course, that guy explains his perfectly timed, slump-busting, championship-snatching shooting performance in Thursday's Game 7 this way:
"The basketball gods," Battier said. "I believe in the basketball gods."
Take that, science.
Playing the role of perfect complement to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- the role Mike Miller played in last year's championship clincher -- Battier hit 6 of 8 3-pointers, including his first five, to shake off what had been a subpar offensive postseason and close with 18 much-needed points.
Battier wasn't just in a shooting slump entering the last two games of the Finals, he had essentially been taken out of the playing rotation since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, playing nine minutes or less in seven straight games until Game 5 in San Antonio.
Entering Game 6 of the Finals, Battier was shooting an awful 22.4 percent from 3-point range in the postseason. That after a regular season that saw him shoot a career-best 43 percent from long range.
Game 6, however, is when the gods stepped in.
His first attempt from the field in Game 6 was a 3 from near the top of the circle that hit off glass, then fell through. He figured that was the start of basketball's higher powers evening matters out.
"I felt that they owed me big time," Battier said in his champagne-soaked T-shirt and the Larry O'Brien trophy perched to his left. "I had a bunch of shots in San Antonio that went in and out. So when that banker went in, I said, 'You know what, they owe me.' But it was the start of a pretty good streak there."
Pretty good is quite the understatement.
Battier finished 3-of-4 from 3-point range in that scintillating Game 6, making a major impact despite playing just 13 minutes. He continued that hot shooting in the winner-take-all game, a game that lacked the miraculous finish but was almost as entertaining.
One kick-out pass after the next, Battier kept catching and shooting, until comparisons to Miller's Game 5 performance in 2012 became inevitable.
Because of that hot shooting, Battier effectively took some of Miller's minutes in this game, playing 29 minutes compared to the 19 of Miller, who missed all five of his attempts (the basketball gods must've figured last year's 7-of-8 in the finale was about enough for him).
In a game where neither team held a lead larger than seven points, all of Battier's 3s were crucial. And his teammates couldn't have asked for better timing.
"With our team, we just continue to trust and believe," said Wade, one of only five Heat players to score at all in the game. "Shane ain't hit a shot since I don't know when. But tonight he was unconscious. And he's just a big-time player."
When Miller replaced him in the rotation, Battier said he couldn't complain about playing time, he could only play so well that Erik Spoelstra simply couldn't sit him.
"I mean, how awesome is that? It's so true," Spoelstra said. "You have to be absolutely pure at heart about it, and not get bent out of shape and get caught up in a dilemma. He was smart enough to know that sometimes it's about matchups. But he's so important to what we do, that eventually he would get his chance again. When he did, he made the most of it.
"Look, the guy has won at every single level, high school, college, pro. It's not a coincidence. He has something running through those veins that separates him, makes him a little bit different as a champion."
He's a champion again, in large part because of two immense plays late.
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LeBron reached the paint but drew two Spurs defenders, so he kicked out to the left corner, where Battier caught, launched and extended the Heat lead to 88-82.
Nearly three minutes later, Battier found himself playing behind Duncan, with the Heat clinging to a two-point lead and the Spurs leader determined to take advantage of the size mismatch.
Battier did his usual work in the post, making the shot as difficult as possible for Duncan, even if it wasn't all that difficult. Duncan missed a 4-footer, then missed the ensuing tip.
Duncan was devastated. Battier was thankful.
"I'm 215 pounds, 6-8, obviously I'm giving up major weight and height to Duncan," Battier said. "So I was just praying that he missed it. To be honest, I don't think I affected the shot that much. I was just trying to make him shoot over the top. And that's a shot Tim Duncan usually makes eight out of 10 times."
If anyone would know the percentage of times Duncan makes that shot, it would be Battier.
But he's far from just a stat geek (that's not an insult to him). He has faith in deities that are apparently specific to his sport.
But it wasn't just those basketball gods that seemingly wanted Battier to have a bounce-back performance on a Game 7 stage. His teammates might've wanted it for him even more.
Because, apparently, systematic and dorky can be pretty warm and fuzzy, too.
"You want that for Shane so bad," Wade said. "You wanted to see those shots go in for him because of everything he stands for. "I always say ... he's going to go down as one of my favorite teammates of all time, just by the guy that he is."