San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat - Game 7

Your unexpected hero: Shane Battier drains six three-pointers in Heat win

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“Reports of my demise were premature. That’s my opening statement.”

Those were the first words Shane Battier spoke when he went to the podium in the interview room after playing a key role in the Heat’s 95-88 Game 7 win over the Spurs.

The last Game 7 the Heat were in — a couple weeks back against the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals — Battier never got off the bench. He was 2-of-16 from three in that series and as the Heat went big to match the Pacers he got squeezed out of the rotation.

For the first five games of the NBA Finals he was little better — 3-for-15 and he again was barely getting in games. But through it all he kept talking about sticking to his routine, getting up his shots in practice, being ready.

“Winston Churchill said ‘When going through Hell keep going.’ So I don’t need to reinvent anything, I just need to do what I do and when the shot is there, take it,” Battier said before Game 5.

He started to find that rhythm in Game 6 (3-of-4 from three).

Then he exploded in Game 7 with an NBA Finals Game 7 record 6 three pointers (on 8 shots), which led to 18 points. All series long the Spurs tried to clog the paint and take away the drives of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but the trade off was room for shooters at the arc.

Battier finally made them pay at the most opportune possible moment for the Heat.

“Honestly, I felt good the last couple of games,” Battier said. “And I made a couple of threes last game, and so I felt really confident tonight. I knew that our starters were going to be pretty tired after Game 6. It was an emotionally and physically draining game. I only played 12 minutes. So I felt great.”

Battier is a guy with the perspective of a veteran, so he didn’t see Game 7 as pressure filled.

“I’ve always thought that pressure is trying to feed your family, trying to make the mortgage. We play a game,” Battier said. “We play basketball.”

Thursday night he played it very well, and for that reason he is a back-to-back NBA Champion.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.

Isaiah Thomas nutmegs Knicks center Marshall Plumlee (video)

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Isaiah Thomas usually saves his best play for the fourth quarter, but the Celtics guard showed out early with this pass between Marshall Plumlee‘s legs to get Kelly Olynyk a layup.

Thomas uncharacteristically just didn’t have enough late. Though he scored 39 points, he shot just 2-for-9 in the final period, as the Knicks pulled away for a 117-106 win.

Kevin Durant misses dunk so hard, ball flies past halfcourt (video)

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Kevin Durant played great in the Warriors’ win over the Thunder last night, but – perhaps fueled by excess emotion – he missed this incredibly emphatic dunk attempt.

Later, Russell Westbrook showed his former teammate how to do it (sparking their apparent conversation):

James Harden outduels Giannis Antetokounmpo as they produce fantastic highlight video

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James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo met in a battle of two of the NBA’s best point guards. (Still weird to say.) The final lines:

  • Harden: 38 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks
  • Antetokounmpo: 32 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks

The winner? Harden and the Rockets, who topped the Bucks, 111-92.

But the real winner? Anyone who gets to watch this highlight video. It just gets better as it goes.