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LEBRON JAMES 40.6% 3-point shooting
MARIO CHALMERS 40.9% 3-point shooting
MIKE MILLER 41.7% 3-point shooting
UDONIS HASLEM Screens, swings ball, dives to the basket
CHRIS BOSH 52.2% 16 feet to 3-point line
There are men in the basketball world who make things happen, players such as LeBron James and Tony Parker who puncture defenses and rip them apart from the inside. Then there are those who wait for things to happen, players whose fate is determined by forces outside their control—hoping for their moment, not knowing if it will come. This story is about such men, the immobile, the patient, the accidental heroes. The Floor Spacers.
When Heat forward Mike Miller caught the ball in the right corner last June, nine minutes into Game 5 of the NBA Finals, he didn't have time to think. He couldn't dwell on the fact that he hadn't made any of his three three-pointers as Miami had taken a 3--1 lead, or that he had played just 21 minutes and was only in the game because of Dwyane Wade's foul trouble—"Just get us to the quarter," coach Erik Spoelstra had told Miller moments earlier. Nor could Miller be distracted by the bulging disk in his back, which numbed his right leg and was so painful it required three teammates to pull him up from his spot lying on the baseline before checking in (a sight that caused Spoelstra to momentarily second-guess his decision). He likewise couldn't acknowledge his sore right (shooting) thumb, his bad left ankle or the unnerving fact that he'd barely touched a ball all day, forgoing his morning and pregame shooting drills. Most of all, Miller couldn't pause to consider whether, at 32, these could be the final minutes of his NBA career.
All he could do was flex his stiff legs and fill the only role left to him. Once a dynamic player, the 2001 NBA Rookie of the Year and '06 Sixth Man Award winner, a gifted passer and high-flying leaper, the 6'8" Miller was now nothing more than a Spacer. His job: Stretch the Thunder's defense so it couldn't collapse on James and Wade as they attacked the basket. He needed to be a viable threat, someone Oklahoma City feared leaving open. As a lifetime 40.6% three-point shooter—one who sank 97 out of 100 threes during a 2010 workout with Miami—Miller was more than qualified for the job. At least when healthy.
Now, after watching the D cheat toward the left side, Miller found himself open after two swing passes. So he did what he had done hundreds of thousands of times, from his grade school days in Mitchell, S.D., to his two years at Florida to the NBA: concentrate on keeping his release high and let it fly. He watched the spin and trajectory of the ball. Instantly, he knew it was going in.
The second three came 63 seconds later, when Miller came off a down screen and fired from the right wing. Schwick went the amplified net. To his great surprise and relief, nothing ached. Miller could feel the old juices returning. Please don't take me out, he thought as he ran back downcourt. At the next timeout, Spoelstra asked if he was good to go; Miller nodded. And with that, Miller began, as he says, "hunting shots." He curled above the key to the top of the left wing. Schwick. He traced the three-point arc all the way from right corner to left and used a back screen from center Chris Bosh. Schwick. Around him, 20,000 white-clad, overly tan fans at AmericanAirlines Arena hollered and high-fived, spilling their expensive beers on their expensive linen pants.