The Oklahoma City Thunder know who they have to stop in order win an NBA title. It's common sense.
Any degenerate gambler, however, wouldn't have predicted Miami Heat forward Shane Battier to average 17 points through the first two games of the NBA Finals.
Yes, Shane Battier, the former Duke star and current NBA journeyman. He has somewhat taken the load off Miami's troika of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in his first Finals appearance by hitting 12 of his 17 field-goal attempts, going 9-for-13 from 3-point territory and playing more than 41 minutes in each game.
Battier is known as a stats junkie -- makes sense since he's a former pupil of the great Mike Krzyzewski -- and should be aware of how hot he is from beyond the arc in the Finals. He made just 33.9 percent of his 3-point attempts in the regular season, but has turned up his game under the brightest of lights and helped the Heat to a split with OKC.
Can you blame Thunder coach Scott Brooks and his staff for focusing most of the attention on James, Wade and Bosh? Not a chance. This could be just a freak occurrence from Battier, and the Heat have been aware of his capabilities for quite some time.
When asked about Battier's recent contributions and aggressive defense, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra laid it all out in Thursday's post-game conference.
"Yeah, and that's when everybody notices Shane Battier is when the ball is going in. We notice everything else before that, his versatility," Spoelstra said. "But, yes, it's the defensive plays that he makes, it's the leadership, all the details mean everything to him, and that's become contagious to this group. And he's proven himself over his career that in clutch moments he's a timely shooter."
Spoelstra also noted how Battier's ability to multi-task on the floor has enabled Miami to run its offense the way it should be. He said the Heat weren't able to do that last year. With Battier starting to draw attention from the Thunder, James and Wade can move around and freelance at will. That serves as a double-edged sword for Oklahoma City because it leaves the perimeter wide open for Battier, Mike Miller or Mario Chalmers.
It goes back to Spoelstra's use of the word contagious when describing Battier's detailed approach. Miami's talented trio, especially the two superstars, can breathe a sigh of relief that they're not in this alone. Many speculated Miami doesn't have as much depth as the Thunder, and that may be true, yet Battier has given Spoelstra another option when diagramming plays.
Battier, who never scored in double-digits in consecutive games during the entire 2011-12 regular season, has recorded three straight games of 12 or more points in his last postseason bouts. His teammates appreciate the turnaround on the NBA's biggest stage.
"Going against him in my career, I understood how smart he was, I understood how competitive he was, especially on the defensive end," James said. "I was very excited when we were able to sign him in the offseason. He's a big part of why we're here today and competing for a championship. He's meant a lot for our team and a lot to me."
Battier averaged 4.8 points in 65 games (10 starts) during the regular season and is posting 6.8 ppg in 20 playoff games, 13 of which have been starts. He's picked a good time to push those numbers and only has his teammates and the defensive schemes against them to credit. His success has to stick in the craw of Oklahoma City fans and it's easily comparable to how the Boston Red Sox faithful feel about former Yankee Bucky Dent. Dent was average at best during his major league career and is best known for his home run over the Monster in left field at Fenway Park during a tie-breaker at the end of the 1978 season.
Miami is hoping Battier can keep providing that kind of infrequent spark.
The next three games of the NBA Finals will take place on the shores of Biscayne Bay starting Sunday night.
That could give the Thunder plenty of time to adjust and add a wrinkle or two in stopping Battier now that he's no longer playing under the radar.