In the NBA Finals last year, Mario Chalmers hit a huge three to give the Heat the lead late vs. Dallas. It was supposed to be his moment. Finally, finally, he would be accepted, respected, celebrated. It would be about him, and his game, his shot. It was not. A blown rotation and an answer from Dallas and the series had shifted for the final time. That was the game where everything ended for Miami, when you look back.
The Heat could have moved on from Chalmers this year, could have opted to go in a different direction. They stuck with the guy they’ve come to know as “little brother.” And in Game 4 vs. Oklahoma City, it paid off. Chalmers scored 25 points on 9-15 shooting and the Heat pulled away for a 104-98 victory, going up 3-1 in the Finals.
In every playoff series, there are what I call “You have to be kidding me” guys. Players who a team’s fans know as guys who can hit big shots, make big plays, who are playing well under the radar. Players who the other team’s fans have no expectation of anything positive from. When they deliver, those fans are left screaming “You have to be kidding me!” as a player they never feared hits big shot after big shot. Shane Battier was that player for three games. In Game 4, it was Mario Chalmers.
What’s maybe even more stunning is that Chalmers did it without just hitting open 3’s on the catch-and-shoot. He was going to the rim. He sped past defenders (including Kevin Durant for much of the game) and hit tough layup after tough layup, hanging the ball on the edge of the rim with enough back spin to slide back in. It wasn’t Dwyane Wade or LeBron James, but they were monster shots all the same.
The burden of being a young, inconsistent point guard finding your way on a team of superstars is you’re constantly being considered in the context of another level. Chalmers is notoriously confident to the point of absurdity. He honestly believes he’s as good as those players, he honestly believes he can change a game, a series, a season. In Game 4, he backed it up. He made smart decisions, and when he didn’t, he made up for it with hustle plays. Twice, Chalmers responded to turnovers with defensive pressure to force the ball back to Miami’s way.
Chalmers has constantly faced being screamed at by James and Wade for any mistake. Overthrow a full-court outlet pass? Criticism. Miss a defensive rotation? Criticism. Turn the ball over? Fail to get the ball to a star in a key spot? Take a bad shot? Constant and consistent verbal abuse. You have to live with the standards. In Game 4, there were none of those words, just glowing support post-game from the superstar big brothers. The kid had done it, he’d pulled his weight, he’d made the shots, he’d won the game.
Little brother has arrived, when Miami needed him most.