Shane Battier is making the rounds again, in early spring, as is his custom. He’s been at this gig for more than a dozen years now, turning the most convicted of Duke dislikers into grudging admirers, the most frustrated of Memphis Grizzlies fans (“we could have gotten Richard Jefferson!”) into believers, and convincing a message board’s worth of frustrated Rockets fans (“seriously, Rudy Gay for this guy?”) into understanding that a Battier a day keeps the bad spacing away. He’s five years removed from acting as the most consistent member of a team that won 22 consecutive games, he’s four years removed from the fawning and accurate ‘No-Stats All-Star’ tribute, and he made the most important play on Monday night for a team that has now won 23 games in a row.
Yes, LeBron James took and made a nice and low-percentage 21-footer that rattled in, giving the Miami Heat the lead over the Boston Celtics. Shane Battier sustained that lead, though, twice blocking a player in Jeff Green that had already dropped 43 points on Miami. Watch:
Following that move, after the referees (even given the benefit of replay) failed to reverse the initial call that ruled the ball off of Battier, Paul Pierce missed a corner three-pointer and Miami secured the ball. Following an intentional foul, Battier was charged with the task of making the in-bounds pass with just over a second to go in the contest, and he responded with this jerk cool move:
These are things we’re supposed to enjoy, in real time.
I’m as wary of anyone at sportswriters fawning over the supposed intangible contributions of a player that hasn’t averaged double-figure points since 2007 and routinely produces a below-average Player Efficiency Rating, but Shane Battier isn’t a guy you can catch up on the day after. He’s someone you need to pay attention to at night, when things go dark and the point guard stupidly went under the screen. I understand that this is old man writing at its worst, but he is a show with a five-buck cover that you’ll never forget, in a world that’s mindlessly staring at Netflix Instant.
(OK, pasty sportswriter, let’s stop prattling on about the guy that scored six points and posted a -15 in 16 minutes of work on Monday.)
Let’s damn the self-aware turn and move on. Shane Battier was a fixture on a remarkable Houston Rockets team that flipped the coin 22 times in 2008 and won each time out. He was a mainstay on a Duke team that won endlessly, despite our furrowed brows, and the literal and figurative corner guy on a 2012 Miami Heat team that turned LeBron James from heel to hero. And because he’s better at us in capturing the moment, postgame, all of the digital recorders pointed toward Battier in Boston last night.
From Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, in looking back at a Houston Rocket team that could have been as special as this current Miami Heat conflagration:
"We knew back then that it was one of the most improbable runs in basketball history – maybe even in sports history," Battier told Yahoo! Sports. "We were journeymen, a bunch of role players. When we were healthy – with Yao and Tracy – that team was pretty good. But we could never stay healthy.
"That was our championship."
Here’s where Battier discusses that game-changing double-block on Green, to SB Nation’s Paul Flannery:
"I knew if he had an ISO up top he was probably going to go to his right because that's his power move, and I'm very fortunate I got my hand in there," Battier said. "You know, I can't jump anymore, so I wasn't going to meet him at the rim. He brought the ball in front of my face just enough to get a piece of it. It was an instinctual play. Not something I thought about -- ‘I'm going to make this play.' It happened so fast. It was a bang-bang play. Everything's so happening fast, you're not trying to process it. You go out there and maintain your principles and try to make him hit a tough shot. That's all you can do."
And here’s the part where Shane Battier talks about his Miami Heat to CBS’ Ken Berger, somehow circling above and working within the eye of the storm at the same time:
"You've got to remember," Battier said, "we've been dealing with media circuses, some of these guys, for three years now. So this is [just] Monday night. And so I think at this point, our team has proper perspective about what we're trying to accomplish here. Again, great story line, great for the NBA, great for casual fans, but for us, it's about building. It's about improving. It's about ultimately reaching our best basketball in the future. And that's the fun part."
If you think this stuff is mindless sport-speak, something worth rolling your eyes over, we understand. Mainly because we’ve heard it before. The distinction, with Battier, is that he’s lived it before. Lucky him.
It’s true that Battier waited until he was 33 to win his first NBA championship, but his significant résumé (that college career, those playoff turns, the streak in 2008) allow him the credibility to learn us real good about this stuff. Postgame, on Monday night, every Miami Heat player talked up playing their best basketball in June as opposed to killing it in March, but the whoops and hollers from the closed Heat locker room as coach Erik Spoelstra spoke to the media betrayed that feigned bemusement. These guys are enjoying this as it happens, quite mindful of the fact that they’re discovering new things about each other every day. And it’s important to note that it can be a hit – 23 times in a row.
Things could completely fall apart in upcoming Heat road games in Cleveland or Detroit, the sort of NBA-styled slogs in sleet that tend to bore players even a few weeks into what could technically be termed as “spring.” That hardly matters. What counts most to this team is the fearsome excavation that they’re applying to the rest of the NBA. Those incredible numbers late in close games during the fourth quarter. The knowledge that, overall numbers be damned, the Heat can play on a string defensively when it counts the most. And the preposterous career arcs of Mssrs. James and D-Wade.
Somehow, of course, Shane Battier is there through it all. He’s no Steve Kerr or Robert Horry – ready to provide spacing and little else besides smart choices in free agency. He’s no Derek Fisher – only around because Mitch Kupchak decided not to trade Andrew Bynum for Jason Kidd. And he’s not some Walter Mitty-type, an on-court avatar that we wish we could be.
No, he’s there because he’s smarter and more prepared than any of us – the casual fan, the League Pass obsessive, the NBA MVP or the coach that knows more about Terrence Williams than Mrs. Williams does. His rare ability to think three steps ahead while remaining fully in the moment is unmatched in this league, even if those slow feet don’t allow him to catch up to the moment that just blew by him on the baseline.
The streak could end on Wednesday. And by some weird fluke or ankle sprain, the Heat could be denied a return to the Finals in June. Shane Battier could shoot 4-29 in the final round, and his too-slow close out on Kevin Durant could lead to the shot that clinches a championship for another team.
None of that counts right now, despite Miami’s insistence on telling everyone that June matters the most. Because for fans that obsess over this game in the weeks before the trees start sprouting leaves, Shane Battier is our go-to guy. Always has been.
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