After spending Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on the bench, shackled to the sideline by a shooting slump that seemed like it might never end, Shane Battier offered a pretty disgusting analogy to describe the experience of watching his Miami Heat teammates advance to the 2013 NBA Finals without him.
"Every now and then you've got to eat a turd sandwich," Battier said before the start of the Finals. "You eat a turd sandwich and that ribeye tastes really good next time."
"Next time," in this case, came Thursday night, in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, when Battier came off the bench to scorch the San Antonio Spurs from downtown. Like Mike Miller in his unconscious Game 5 during Miami's 2012 title win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Battier came off the bench to drop bomb after bomb from beyond the arc, scoring 18 points on 6 for 8 shooting from 3-point land in 29 minutes to help propel the Heat to a 95-88 win in Game 7 that nailed down a 4-3 series win for Miami and the Heat's second straight NBA championship.
"Tomorrow, I hope my wife cooks me a nice ribeye," Battier said. "I'm looking forward to my ribeye tomorrow."
With a shooting performance like this, he damn sure earned it:
Extra Luger's for the champ, please.
It's not necessarily news that Battier can fill it up from downtown — after all, he's a 38.7 percent career 3-point shooter from distance who hit 15 of his 26 triples in the Heat's 2012 Finals win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. But considering how mightily Battier had struggled this postseason, such a breakout performance seemed unlikely, at best.
All year long, the veteran defender and glue guy seemed a perfect fit alongside LeBron James and Chris Bosh in Miami's frontcourt as small-ball power forward who'd provided a reliable, floor-spacing deep stroke on offense and a willingness to bang with burlier fours on the defensive end. By the time the postseason rolled around, though, Battier's long-range touch had disappeared.
Whether due to the accumulated fatigue of all those minutes punching above his weight class or just a horrendously timed cold snap, Battier went from a 43 percent 3-point shooter in the regular season to hitting just 23.7 percent of his long balls during the Heat's first 13 playoff games, and he was getting eaten alive by Indiana Pacers bruiser David West on the other end of the court.
His inability to space the floor — the Pacers were straight-up not guarding him by Game 4 — or slow down West forced Spoelstra to limit Battier to just 13 total minutes in Games 5 and 6 of the Eastern finals before sitting him altogether in Game 7. Battier's most significant contribution in Miami's blowout win over Indiana was toweling LeBron off during a timeout. It was a weird spot to be in for a guy who made 20 starts and averaged 25 minutes per game for the best team in basketball.
Miller had moved in front of him in the Heat's wing rotation. Minutes, opportunities and shots were scarce, and when they came, they still weren't falling. But to hear Battier tell it, his faith in probabilities helped him ward off despair.
"Last year, I had a horrific shooting slump to start the year [and] my mantra was, 'I'll regress to the mean.' And I believe in that," Battier said. "I knew that my shooting was not indicative of the numbers that I put up last year, and very similarly to the stretch right now. I know I'm a better shooter than my numbers put up."
When the Finals shifted away from traditional two-big frontcourts to smaller lineups in which James and Kawhi Leonard slid up to power forward while swingmen Miller and Danny Green (or Manu Ginobili, depending on how you look at it) played the three, there were more minutes and opportunities for Battier to get some run in Games 4, 5 and 6. With those minutes and opportunities came shots, and with those shots came some rhythm ... even if he still wasn't seeing them go through the net.
And then, all of a sudden, Battier got a fairly bonkers banked-in 3 to fall in Game 6, and off in the distance, the Duke grad heard heavenly hosts.
"The basketball gods — I believe in basketball gods. I felt that they owed me big time," Battier said. "I had a bunch of shots in San Antonio that went in and out, so when that banker went in, I said, 'You know what? They owe me.' But it was the start of a pretty good streak there."
After knocking in two 3s in six tries in Game 5, Battier's banker got him in enough of a rhythm to cash in three of his four long-balls in Game 6, leading him to feel "really confident" heading into Game 7. He got going quickly, draining a catch-and-shoot bomb from the right wing off a penetrate-and-kick by Ray Allen less than two minutes after checking into the game late in the first quarter. A little over a minute later, he got another clean look when Green left him all alone to help (needlessly, since there were three other Spurs in the neighborhood) on another Allen drive. Catch, shoot, splash, and Battier had found his rhythm, and was well on the way to an explosive Game 7 performance.
As he began his session with reporters after the game, Battier thought back to his woeful slump and stint on the bench, and offered a quip as an opening statement.
"Reports of my demise were premature," he said.
Yes, Shane Battier's alive and well, and whatever comes next for the 12-year NBA veteran, he's now a two-time NBA champion. I'm not sure that's quite as tasty as ribeye, but it sure beats the hell out of a turd sandwich.