Commentary

Not-so-super Mario Chalmers

Miami's PG eyes bounce-back effort after a foul- and turnover-filled Game 1

Originally Published: June 7, 2014
By Israel Gutierrez | ESPN.com

Mario ChalmersSoobum Im/USA TODAY SportsMario Chalmers is no stranger to the Finals stage, but his Game 1 performance left much to be desired.

SAN ANTONIO -- It was a dramatic way for Chris Bosh to get his message across, even to a player who has become used to emotional outbursts directed his way.

Bosh grabbed Mario Chalmers by both sides of his face Thursday night and looked him dead in his eyes, the way ... well, there's no way around it, the way you would see in one of those overly dramatic Hollywood love stories.

But while Bosh's message to his point guard did come from the heart, it wasn't nearly as intense as the pose would suggest it was.

"I was telling him to pass me the ball," Bosh said.

See, not dramatic at all.

In fact, you'd think Bosh could've told Chalmers that without even looking at him, much less touching his face.

But then again, given how erratic Chalmers has been of late, perhaps the extra emphasis was necessary.

Chalmers played only 17 minutes in Game 1 of his fourth NBA Finals. But he crammed a whole lot of awful into that time.

[+] EnlargeMario Chalmers
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesIn 17 minutes of action in Game 1, Mario Chalmers recorded three points, five turnovers and five fouls.

He committed five of Miami's 18 turnovers, was whistled for five fouls, which is what limited his minutes, and made only one shot in three attempts, a step-back 3-pointer in the final minutes that was quickly followed by another turnover to help doom the Heat.

There was a little dash of decent mixed in, including a block on Tony Parker and three steals from a sloppy Spurs offense.

But the performance was actually consistent with how Chalmers has played this postseason. The player who normally provides Miami with a timely boost every handful of games has been in one of his more significant funks at an inopportune time.

Chalmers hasn't had a double-figure scoring night since May 8, which would be a full month by the time Game 2 tips Sunday. Thursday's game was his second five-turnover game in his last six, during which his assist-to-turnover ratio is 1.1-to-1. He's averaging less than one made 3 per game in the postseason, and his 6.8 postseason scoring average and 5.8 field-goal attempts per game would be the lowest of his six playoff appearances.

Thursday's Game 1 might have been the low point of Chalmers' playoffs so far, but given his recent play, it wasn't exactly shocking.

Chalmers says there's a reason for his sub-standard play, but it doesn't seem like enough to explain the sharp drop-off from a player who commonly boosts Miami.

"I'm just dealing with different things, trying to fight through it as much as I can," Chalmers said. "Nothing injury-wise, nothing personal, just trying to figure out where I fit in.

"I don't think I'm handling as much as I was in previous playoffs. But it's something coach made an adjustment to. I've just got to figure out a way to be effective."

Chalmers wasn't alone in his ineffective point guard play. Norris Cole wasn't exactly stellar in relief of the foul-plagued Chalmers. But after two early turnovers, Cole at least settled down and contributed five assists and a couple of steals.

"

When he shoots the ball and makes shots and takes care of the ball, we're a markedly, markedly different team.

" - Shane Battier on Mario Chalmers

Chalmers was problematic from start to finish. And for those who say Chalmers' performance shouldn't carry much weight given his role on a team with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Bosh, consider what Shane Battier had to say about Miami's starting point guard.

"When he plays well, we play well," Battier said. "When he shoots the ball and makes shots and takes care of the ball, we're a markedly, markedly different team."

Add to that the responsibility of defending Parker, the lynchpin to the Spurs' offensive attack, and suddenly you realize Chalmers' play Thursday might've fallen just behind the intense heat and LeBron's cramping in the order of reasons Miami lost the game.

"The turnovers were an issue," Battier said of Chalmers. "There just wasn't that crispness that we needed, especially against Tony Parker. Against Parker, you have to be so dialed in. He's tough enough to stop, but when you're not dialed in on his tendencies and his plays, it makes for a long night and puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the defense."

Actually, pile another layer of blame on Chalmers: His foul trouble didn't allow Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to rotate his players as much as he would've liked in the extreme conditions at the AC-free AT&T Center.

So why the especially poor performance on the biggest of NBA stages, the kind of platform in which Chalmers tends to thrive?

Well, the fouls are entirely on him. Chalmers says he has to watch his "touch fouls," because he tends to get called for a lot of those. More accurately, those are reach-in fouls Chalmers commits because he's prone to search for steals.

But the decision-making when the basketball is in his hands -- even if it's less than he is used to -- also comes down to some simple communication. The type of communication Bosh was attempting with the over-the-top posture.

The Spurs are especially adept at swiping down at the ball when Heat players penetrate, particularly Miami's point guards.

So rather than force his way into traffic and draw all five defenders, Bosh wanted Chalmers to simplify his game.

"It's difficult for him when he's attacking and I can see everything (from the perimeter)," Bosh said. "There were tough plays, (the Spurs) got their hands on a couple balls and we got turnovers. I just told him and Cole, 'Just pass it back, make easy, simple plays. I want to get going too, so...' "

Chalmers could serve himself well by watching video of Spurs offense, rather than his own team's. The quickness with which Spurs players are willing to give up the basketball is what makes that offense so effective. Chalmers wasn't nearly as willing to give up the ball, in large part because he was frustrated by his foul situation and was trying to make "home run" plays rather than the simple ones.

As for not handling the ball as much as he used to?

"He's the point guard," Bosh said. "You can get the ball and you can call a play. We're going to listen to you. He's the quarterback in the whole situation. We've got some good players. Shots are gonna be hard to come by sometimes.

"He has that great ability to make the defense react to him. And if he makes simple plays and kicks it out to guys, it'll work out."

Chalmers has been here before. He dealt with similar frustrations in the conference finals against Indiana, and in last year's Finals against the Spurs.

In both of those situations, Chalmers did what he did Thursday night: Afterward, in bed, he replayed the game in his head, figuring out exactly where his mistakes were made and how he could improve.

When he did that in last year's Finals, after a Game 5 loss in San Antonio, Chalmers followed it with a 20-point game in Game 6, a performance entirely overshadowed by the theatrics of the final few minutes of that game.

How he follows this self-analysis should be critical to the Heat's chances of winning a third straight title. This group has never been down 0-2 in a playoff series, and digging out of that kind of hole against the Spurs would be the most difficult task they've faced in four years.

Despite his struggles, Chalmers' teammates remain fully confident the point guard can recover. It's kind of what he does -- when you least expect it.

"Rio catches a lot of grief for a myriad of reasons," Battier said. "But there's one thing that's unquestioned: he has cojones."

Israel Gutierrez is an NBA writer for ESPN.com.

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