Battier getting hot at right time for Miami
MIAMI (AP) -- Shane Battier is in the NBA Finals for the first time. Maybe it's no coincidence that it's bringing out his best play of the season.
Battier has scored 17 points in each of the two finals games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, though that's hardly where the list of recent accomplishments end for the 11-year Duke veteran. He's scored at least 12 points in three consecutive games for the first time since December 2010. And he's 13 for 22 from 3-point range over that span, a far cry from his 14-for-59 slump that lasted for about six weeks late in the regular season.
"NBA finals. No use in saving your shots now," Battier said. "Let it fly."
The first points of the 2012 finals? They came on a 3-pointer by Battier. The first points of Game 2? Same thing.
Forget LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for a moment. Battier appears to be perhaps the most problematic matchup for the Thunder, given how he thinks nothing of banging around inside with bigger players defensively, but forces those same bigger guys to stretch to the 3-point line when the Heat have the basketball.
He's been good most of the time, and a little lucky at others. One of the biggest -- if not the biggest -- shots for Miami in its Game 2 win at Oklahoma City on Thursday night was a 3-pointer that Battier hit with 5:08 left, pushing what had been a rapidly dwindling Heat lead out to 90-83.
Wasn't exactly a shooters' touch -- Battier banked it in from about 26 feet away.
But it worked.
"He's been a huge lift," James said. "He's been a huge lift for us. He's shooting the ball extremely well from the outside. He's making plays both offensively and defensively. We're going to need it. We're going to need it. The series is going to be so tight that we're going to need guys to step up, and Shane has been there in the first two games."
The series is knotted at a game apiece, with Game 3 in Miami on Sunday night.
Battier signed a $9 million, three-year contract with the Heat before the season began, announcing his decision on Twitter and by quoting singer Jimmy Buffett. (The two met in Miami at a concert about a month into this season.) Battier had other offers, but decided all that mattered was being in the best position to chase that still-elusive first championship.
The "role player" tag doesn't bother him. He knows his worth to the Heat -- the team's CEO, Nick Arison, was Duke's student manager when Battier played there, and the Arison family had wanted to see Battier in Miami colors for years.
"Hey, every player in this league is a role player," Battier said earlier in this playoff run. "That's a secret. It's just some have the role to score, to be a 30 or 40-point scorer. We're all role players. It's just doing your job. Everyone has a job to do. Every job is vital if you want to win. So that's the approach that the solid role players take."
DURANT'S NEW CHALLENGE: Kevin Durant simply does not find himself in foul trouble often.
That's one of many reasons why Game 2 of the NBA Finals was so perplexing to the league's scoring champion.
Durant has fouled out only twice in his five pro seasons, a span of 380 regular-season games and 40 more playoff contests. The Oklahoma City star was charged with his fifth foul with 10:31 left to play in Game 2 on Thursday night, but never picked up his sixth -- and managed to play the game as he normally would.
He did not come out of the game after getting foul No. 5. He played all 12 minutes in the final quarter, scoring 16 points even with the five fouls and almost willing the Thunder back from a double-digit deficit before Miami held on for a 100-96 victory.
"It's tough to play with five, play with four in the third," Durant said. "It's tough, but I've got to stay aggressive. I tried to stay aggressive. I tried to keep my team in it. They believed in me, and we had a chance."
For comparison's sake, Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap have both fouled out 24 times over the past five seasons (including playoffs) for the NBA lead. And only one player has started more games than Durant in the last five years and fouled out less than twice -- Boston's Rajon Rondo has picked up six fouls only once in the 451 games he's started over that span.
But even Durant isn't on pace to catch the gentlemanly standards of Steve Nash, who fouled out five times in his first four seasons -- and then again just once in 1,025 games over his past 12 years in the league.
NOTES: This is the third straight year that the NBA Finals are knotted at a game apiece going into Game 3, and the 13th time that's happened since the title series went to the 2-3-2 format in 1985. ... The Thunder have 37 first-quarter points -- total -- in the two games. That's not a new problem for the Western Conference champs, either: Oklahoma City has led after the first quarter in just two of its last 12 games overall. ... Miami never trailed in Game 2, becoming the first team to win a finals game wire-to-wire since San Antonio beat Detroit in Game 2 in 2005. ... Thunder C Serge Ibaka leads the finals with five blocked shots so far, even after not having any in Game 1. ... The Heat hosted a fan viewing party at their arena in Miami for Game 2, and measured the crowd noise at the end of the game at 113 decibels. To put that in perspective, rock concerts are often measured at around 115 decibels.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)