Shane Battier and the Miami Heat have reached the NBA Finals again and will start their title defense Thursday night against the San Antonio Spurs. If the Heat go on to win the Larry O'Brien trophy, Battier will be the first Blue Devil in the Mike Krzyzewski era to win two NBA titles as a player. Danny Ferry also has two NBA rings—both with these Spurs—though the second of the two came as an executive.
Battier's 2013 playoff experience in Miami has been much different from his experience the previous season. In 2012 Battier averaged 33.4 minuts per game, scoring 7.0 points and grabbing 3.2 rebounds per game, all while playing his patented gritty defense. This season, Battier's playing time has diminished as the playoffs have worn on.
The Heat's series against the Pacers was a troubling one for Battier. For starters, two members of the Pacers spoke out against Battier, calling him a dirty player. Forward David West told ESPN that Battier attacks his and other players' knees.
"I [learned] to always have my guard up and protect my knees," West said. "[Battier] has got this funny way of moving into your knees. We're very conscious of that. We talk about making sure we protect our knees."
Center Roy Hibbert agreed with West's remarks, calling out Battier for being a dirty player, both in the present and in the past.
"I know what [Battier' brings to the game and it's worked for him in the past. He has to do whatever he has to do to make sure his team wins," Hibbert said. "I'm going to watch my knees, watch my groin.... To tell you the truth, I don't care. I'm in there, I'm playing tough. He has to do what he has to do.
Obviously I don't like it but it's a part of the game. I don't want to look back say I gave in to a dirty player."
Battier defended himself a little bit—calling on his Duke education to do so—but refused to respond directly to Hibbert and West's inflammatory remarks."In a perfect world, we'd all love to be stoic, immovable forces where the force of very large men throwing themselves into you doesn't affect you," Battier said. "Yeah, that'd be great. But unfortunately, there's a thing called physics involved that seems to win out more often than not."
In addition to taking heat off the court, Battier has struggled mightily when on it. After playing almost 25 minutes per game during the regular season, Battier eclipsed 20 minutes just twice in seven games against the Pacers. After playing only eight minutes in Game 5 and four in Game 6, Battier was a healthy scratch in the deciding Game 7. Afterward, Battier compared his game on the sidelines to a "turd sandwich."
There is a bright side for Battier. The 6-foot-8 forward is expected to rejoin the rotation against the Spurs. Though San Antonio starts two traditional big men, the bench bigs—Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner—are less physical than the Pacers' second unit. Battier will be counted on to make open shots and play tough defense when he rejoins the rotation, potentially as soon as tonight.
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