The guy complicating things for the Thunder in the NBA Finals could have been the guy making life miserable on OKC's behalf.
Three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant reached out to unrestricted free agent Shane Battier via Twitter during the offseason about possibly signing with the Thunder.
Instead, Battier is now shoving his hand in Durant's face on defense, shielding the shooter's eyes on jump shots with a blindfold technique Durant freely admits “I absolutely hate.”
If that weren't enough, Durant only wishes he could have the success rate on 3-pointers that Battier has enjoyed so far in the championship series that is tied at 1-1 heading into Game 3 at Miami on Sunday night.
During the regular season, Battier shot 33.9 percent from 3-point range and had shot 32.1 percent in the playoffs prior to the Finals.
In Games 1 and 2 against the Thunder, however, Battier has sizzled at 69.2 percent (9 for 13), a ridiculous conversion rate that has Battier himself shaking his head.
“It's the Finals,” a smiling Battier said with a shrug. “No sense holding back now. Let it fly. Let it go.”
Perhaps the biggest 3 of all came with 5:08 left in Game 2 on Thursday night, when Battier banked in a 26-footer from out front with the shot clock about to expire and the Thunder having pulled to within 87-83 after trailing by as many as 17. Miami went on to post a 100-96 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Battier admitted he didn't call “glass” on the shot and explained what transpired — perhaps too honestly.
“I was just trying to get it on the rim, to be honest with you,” Battier said. “The shot clock was low, Durant was in my face. I was just trying to get that ball on the rim and maybe get an offensive rebound. So, uh, the basketball gods were smiling.
“I didn't see it (go in). I threw it up there and got hit. I was on the ground and all the sudden I heard the crowd go, 'Oh.' I'm like, 'I didn't make that basket. You're kidding me.' It came off my hand hard, so I knew it was going to be a rocket shot. I got a very fortunate bounce (off the backboard).”
While stellar defense has been a constant for the affable Battier, his offensive contribution in the Finals has been nothing less than shocking.
Battier has scored 17 points and played 42 minutes in each of the first two games, both of which he started. During the regular season, he averaged 23.1 minutes and 4.8 points and made 10 starts.
Battier is shooting 70.6 percent from the field (12 for 17) in the Finals, going 4 for 6 and 5 for 7 from 3-point range. He is shooting considerably better behind the 3-point line than he did at the free-throw line this season (62.2 percent).
OKC's defensive approach has been to keep one eye on Battier, but both eyes on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. It would be foolish to do otherwise.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said his defenders must close out quicker and harder while returning to Battier on defense, but the Heat's spacing has been outstanding and has given Battier and other outside shooters open looks.
The Heat's Big 3 of James, Wade and Chris Bosh have each had superb moments, but the most crippling damage has come from a defensive-minded 12-year veteran posting career offensive numbers in his first Finals.
“Teammates did a nice job of finding me,” Battier said after Game 2. “I owe a lot of that to LeBron, the way he demands so much attention. As the fourth or fifth option, you just don't get a lot of attention (defensively). So to be successful, we need to be able to take advantage of it.”
If Thunder players defend Battier more tightly, it'll open up driving lanes for James and Wade, which would be disastrous. Better to give up a potential 3-pointer than a surefire dunk.
“On paper, that's how we drew it up,” Battier said of his open looks. “Every game, our shooters making shots opens up lanes for everybody else.”
Eleven of Battier's 12 field goals in the series have come off assists — five from point guard Mario Chalmers (mostly on swing passes), plus four from a penetrating Wade and two from James.
Adding to the sting was Battier opting to sign with the Heat, the only team to offer him a three-year deal.
“Shane has been huge,” James said. “He's a big part of why we're here today and competing for a championship. He's meant a lot for our team, he's meant a lot to me, being able to guard guys as well as the top scorers.”
Battier's ungodly shooting percentages against the Thunder figure to return to earth sometime, but will it be too late? It's a best-of-7 series, and OKC's defensive clock is ticking louder and louder.