Upon last June's loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Miami Heat front office knew they had to add some key pieces to complete the puzzle that already included The Big 3. But doing so meant Pat Riley had to get creative and look for ways to add some good players that wouldn't command a lot of money since their cap space was taken up by the contracts shelled out to his trio of stars.
We notice everything else before that, his versatility. He allows us to play our roster the way we need to, and we weren't necessarily able to do that last year. And so now we're able to play LeBron at several different positions, and same with Dwyane, and he kind of ties that all together.
- Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat coach
They needed a big man down low in the post to come off the bench and another player that could come off the bench to give them a spark on both ends of the floor.
While we never saw the fruition of the Eddy Curry signing and most likely never will, the Shane Battier deal is now paying off and could definitely be the link to the first of many championships that LeBron James famously predicted.
Compared to the New York Knicks signing Tyson Chandler, Battier's signing could be is right up there among the top deals given out especially with so little time afforded to teams once the lockout ended. He didn't cost them a lot as he signed for $9 million over three years.
Battier was lights out in the Game 1 loss, hitting 4-of-6 beyond the arc, and then last night he was up to his tricks, giving the Thunder a headache on the scoreboard and on the defensive end as he held again took the duty of defending Kevin Durant and switching against other players throughout the night.
The 11-year veteran out of Duke scored 17 points, shooting 6-of-8 from the field including 5-of-7 from the field in Thursday night's much needed victory.
Battier drilled a pair of 3-pointers as Miami jumped to an early 16-2 lead in the first quarter, a lead the Heat increased to 17 late in the game before the Thunder rallied back and came within two points on a Durant 3-pointer before James sealed it with a pair of free throws for a 100-96 victory.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wants everyone to be aware that there's just more to Battier's game than launching three-point bombs.
“We notice everything else before that, his versatility. He allows us to play our roster the way we need to, and we weren't necessarily able to do that last year. And so now we're able to play LeBron at several different positions, and same with Dwyane, and he kind of ties that all together,” Spoelstra said.
“ … 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.”
Although he started just 10 of 66 games during the regular season while averaging only 4.8 points and 2.4 rebounds over 23.05 minutes a game, Battier has been just as important as James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the playoffs.
He came off the bench during the series against the New York Knicks, often drawing the assignment of guarding Carmelo Anthony. Heat coach Spoelstra inserted him into the starting lineup once they knew Chris Bosh was going to be out for the Indiana series and almost the entire Eastern Conference matchup against Boston.
His homework assignments grew as he chased David West, Paul Pierce and now Oklahoma City's Durant, Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook.
James said he always knew how much of cerebral player Battier was from having faced him in the past.
“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,” James said. “He's meant a lot for our team, he's meant a lot to me, being able to guard guys as well as the top scorers.”
Battier spent most of last season with Houston, a team he had been a part of for the span of four plus seasons before the Rockets traded him back to Memphis, the team that drafted him and had him for his first five years of his career. He came off the bench for the Grizzlies during their thrilling series against Oklahoma City in the playoffs last year and could have very well helped out the Heat in the Finals against the Mavericks, especially going up against Dirk Nowitzki.
Having Battier on the team means that James doesn't have to always guard the other team's best player because Battier is just as good. It's an extra weapon Miami has this time around.
“Shane is a guy who guards multiple positions for us. We like to say LeBron guards one through five. Shane does in a sense, too. He's a great defender, he's a great team defender, and he's been big for us all year,” Wade said while adding that “this time of year is what he lives for, what we love him for, to come in -- he had a big day today offensively, but some nights when he don't have it going offensively he spreads the floor anyway, and also defensively we know he's going to give us his all.”
Adry Torres, who has covered MLB, NFL, NBA and NCAA basketball games and related events, is a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @adrytorresnyc