Mike Ehrmann, Getty Images
MIAMI — Shane Battier is in the NBA Finals for the first time. Maybe it's no coincidence that it's bringing out his best play of the season.
Battier has scored 17 points in each of the two finals games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, though that's hardly where the list of recent accomplishments end for the 11-year Duke veteran. He's scored at least 12 points in three consecutive games for the first time since December 2010. And he's 13 for 22 from 3-point range over that span, a far cry from his 14-for-59 slump that lasted for about six weeks late in the regular season.
"NBA finals. No use in saving your shots now," Battier said. "Let it fly."
The first points of the 2012 finals? They came on a 3-pointer by Battier. The first points of Game 2? Same thing.
Forget LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for a moment. Battier appears to be perhaps the most problematic matchup for the Thunder, given how he thinks nothing of banging around inside with bigger players defensively, but forces those same bigger guys to stretch to the 3-point line when the Heat have the basketball.
He's been good most of the time, and a little lucky at others. One of the biggest — if not the biggest — shots for Miami in its Game 2 win at Oklahoma City on Thursday night was a 3-pointer that Battier hit with 5:08 left, pushing what had been a rapidly dwindling Heat lead out to 90-83.
Wasn't exactly a shooters' touch — Battier banked it in from about 26 feet away.
But it worked.
"He's been a huge lift," James said. "He's been a huge lift for us. He's shooting the ball extremely well from the outside. He's making plays both offensively and defensively. We're going to need it. We're going to need it. The series is going to be so tight that we're going to need guys to step up, and Shane has been there in the first two games."
The series is knotted at a game apiece, with Game 3 in Miami on Sunday night.
Battier signed a $9 million, three-year contract with the Heat before the season began, announcing his decision on Twitter and by quoting singer Jimmy Buffett. (The two met in Miami at a concert about a month into this season.) Battier had other offers, but decided all that mattered was being in the best position to chase that still-elusive first championship.
The "role player" tag doesn't bother him. He knows his worth to the Heat — the team's CEO, Nick Arison, was Duke's student manager when Battier played there, and the Arison family had wanted to see Battier in Miami colors for years.
DURANT'S NEW CHALLENGE: Kevin Durant simply does not find himself in foul trouble often.
That's one of many reasons why Game 2 of the NBA Finals was so perplexing to the league's scoring champion.
Durant has fouled out only twice in his five pro seasons, a span of 380 regular-season games and 40 more playoff contests. The Oklahoma City star was charged with his fifth foul with 10:31 left to play in Game 2 on Thursday night, but never picked up his sixth — and managed to play the game as he normally would.
He did not come out of the game after getting foul No. 5. He played all 12 minutes in the final quarter, scoring 16 points even with the five fouls and almost willing the Thunder back from a double-digit deficit before Miami held on for a 100-96 victory.
For comparison's sake, Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap have both fouled out 24 times over the past five seasons (including playoffs) for the NBA lead. And only one player has started more games than Durant in the last five years and fouled out less than twice — Boston's Rajon Rondo has picked up six fouls only once in the 451 games he's started over that span.
NOTES: This is the third straight year that the NBA Finals are knotted at a game apiece going into Game 3, and the 13th time that's happened since the title series went to the 2-3-2 format in 1985. ... The Thunder have 37 first-quarter points — total — in the two games. That's not a new problem for the Western Conference champs, either: Oklahoma City has led after the first quarter in just two of its last 12 games overall.
OKLAHOMA CITY 1, MIAMI 1
Game 1: OKC 105, Miami 94
Game 2: Miami 100, OKC 96
Sunday: at Miami, 6 p.m.
Tuesday: at Miami, 7 p.m.
Thursday: at Miami, 7 p.m.
x-June 24: at Okla. City, 6 p.m.
x-June 26: at Okla. City, 7 p.m.
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