Serge Ibaka and Shane Battier Deciding the NBA Finals

LeBron James and Kevin Durant trading shots and outscoring each other is all fine and nice, but it seems that Shane Battier of all people is the surprise scoring output for the Miami Heat; The secret ingredient to their Game 2 win, while Serge Ibaka of the Thunder can’t decide if to keep closing the paint or go out and guard the open three point shots.

Battier rarely found himself as a main contributor on the offensive end for the Miami Heat this season. He averaged only 4.8 points per game in 23.1 minutes a night, shooting only 38.7% from the field and giving most of his contribution through defense.

Chris Bosh’s injury changed Battier’s role with the team. From a 20-25 minutes a night guy who’s mostly supposed to add defense and experience, he’s suppose to be a much bigger factor in the offensive game. Since Bosh went down, Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf have slowly been taken out of the rotation due to their disappointing games in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Spoelstra has decided that going small, with Chris Bosh as center and Shane Battier at the number four position. He has played 38 minutes a night in the series against the Celtics although his offensive contribution, 7.1 points per game, was still not what it suddenly became in the first two games against the Thunder. It’s not just confidence. It’s the problems the Oklahoma City Thunder have with the Heat’s small lineup and their need to close the lane.

Battier scored 17 points on both games in the Finals so far. He hasn’t had two consecutive double figures nights in over a year. He had a double figure night once a month during the regular season, but in the postseason, the Heat won in every game Battier stepped up to the plate, including the Game 7 against the Celtics. Until Game 1 of the Finals, but that had more to do with Kevin Durant going wild in the fourth quarter.

And here comes the Serge Ibaka problem for the Thunder. It seems Kendrick Perkins isn’t much use to the Thunder for more than 15-20 minutes a night. The Heat’s rotation has been trimmed down to 6.5 players, with Haslem and Norris Cole getting limited time. Spoelstra is going with Chalmers-Wade-Battier-LeBron-Bosh to the end. And Serge Ibaka is even more important against this lineup.

The problem is the Thunder can’t always rely on Kevin Durant to save them as they come back from a big deficit at half time. They’ve got to make a decision as to how they use Ibaka, because by now, Shane Battier is extremely confident now with his shooting, hitting 69.2% from beyond the arc in the first two games. They simply can’t leave him open to score at least 15 points every night, while LeBron James is pretty much guaranteed for 30+ points while Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh added 40 themselves last time.

The answer comes down to Nick Collison probably, which will make it easier for Ibaka to stay in the paint and protect the rim. Chris Bosh is still a problem with the way he tends to draw defenders outside, but he isn’t such a threat for getting hot from beyond the arc as Battier is. Brooks has made some nice adjustments throughout this postseason between games, especially after losing twice to the Spurs. It’s time for him to find another one as the series heads into Miami.

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