NBA Finals: Mario Chalmers carries Heat until LeBron James closes

June 10, 2013

Thanks, Rio. I’ve got it from here. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Before he pulled off his demoralizing block on Tiago Splitter, angry two-handed chest thump and bombastic two-handed dunk in the fourth quarter of the Miami Heat’s 103-84 victory, LeBron James had to first be lifted up by his teammates – namely Mario Chalmers, who provided a boost with his offense and later his words.

James was struggling with his shot when Chalmers walked up to him with roughly three minutes remaining in the third period and told him, “Let’s go for the kill.”

Chalmers said James told him, “I’m with you.”

James gave credit to Chalmers afterward for keeping the game within range until the four-time most valuable player could finally finish off the Spurs in the fourth quarter of Game 2. Chalmers scored a game-high 19 points but also helped harass Game 1 hero Tony Parker into a forgettable, five-field goal, five-turnover performance.

“I think Rio more than anybody kept us aggressive, him getting into the paint, him getting those and‑ones and making a couple of threes.  It allowed me to sit back and wait for my time,” James said of Chalmers. “Rio, he has to play big for us in multiple facets.  Defensively he’s guarding arguably the best point guard in the league. But I think he also has to make Tony work on the defensive end. He can’t be passive. He has to attack the paint. He has to shoot his shots when he has them.”

Chalmers has never been short on confidence or has proven his ability to rise under pressure situations since he was a point guard at Kansas and hit a three-pointer over Derrick Rose to force overtime in the national championship game in 2008. He has also elevated his play in the playoffs, raising his career average by more than three points in the NBA Finals (from 8.4 to 11.5). Last season, Chalmers had 25 points in Miami’s Game 4 victory over Oklahoma City.

“He’s got guts,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Come on. He had that all the way in college. He’s got incredible confidence in his game.  He’s shown that throughout the years, even when it’s sometimes – I wouldn’t say irrational.”

After the Heat won the title last season, Chalmers said he would rank himself among the top 10 point guards in the league despite not making any all-star teams in his four-year career. Chalmers has also had to endure the constant berating from James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh over the past three seasons without taking it personally and shrinking.

“You can’t teach that quality, the big game guts,” Spoelstra said. “You have to have guts to play with our guys. If you don’t, you get swallowed up. Him being aggressive helps us, no question.”

Chalmers only had eight points on 3-of-10 shooting and had trouble keeping up with Parker in Game 1. Spoelstra eventually had to put James on Parker in the fourth quarter. His ego was perhaps bruised but he wouldn’t admit to any frustrations after Sunday’s win.

“It wasn’t nothing about Tony Parker,” Chalmers said. “It was the fact that we lost Game 1. We never want to lose, especially in The Finals. My mindset was just do what I can for the team and go for there.”

Ray Allen (13 points) and Mike Miller (nine points) also contributed, but Chalmers stood out among the Heat role players. Chalmers shot 6 of 12, including 2 for 4 from long distance, and made the most important shot of the night, as he got fouled while knocking down a floater and converted a three-point play that gave Miami a 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter.

“I just try to make the most of my opportunities,” Chalmers said. “You always hear how hard it is to get to The Finals.  Once you get there, you want to leave it out on the court and never have no look‑backs.”

His performance helped James do the same.

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