Alaska's Chalmers earns praise after big game in finals

Miami HeraldJune 20, 2012 

MIAMI -- Dwyane Wade wasn't asked his opinion of how Anchorage's Mario Chalmers played on Tuesday night in the NBA Finals, but he gave it anyway. ABC TV caught it, broadcast it live and could be fined by the FCC because of it.

Wade used one expletive twice -- the word Ralphie called "the queen-mother of dirty words" in A Christmas Story -- to punctuate Chalmers' huge game.

Some Miami fans were likely using the same word earlier in the game when Chalmers missed his first three shots as the Heat fell behind by double-digits.

But Wade used the word in praise after Chalmers came up huge in Miami's 104-98 victory in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

Not only did Chalmers score a playoff-high 25 points, he scored the Heat's final five points of the night.

"That kid," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, "is not afraid of any moment. We all know that. He's a gutsy kid."

And now Chalmers, 26, is poised to become Alaska's first NBA champion -- and one of only a handful of men who have won basketball championships at the high school, Division I college and NBA levels. Chalmers landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2008 for his heroics in the NCAA championship game, and he led the Bartlett Golden Bears to back-to-back state titles in 2002 and 2003.

The Heat have control of the series with a 3-1 lead going into Game 5 in Miami on Thursday.

Chalmers, traded to Miami from Minnesota on draft night in 2008 after helping Kansas to the NCAA championship, has been erratic in four seasons with the Heat. That hasn't changed in the postseason. But he's definitely had his moments, and Tuesday night was one of them.

"No matter what, no matter how tough we are on him, he actually thinks he's the best player on this team and that's a gift and a curse," Wade said. "But (Tuessday) it was a gift for us because he never gets down on himself, he always believes, 'Find me, I can make a shot. I can make a play.' He was huge for us."

Chalmers is the Heat's official locker room criticism lightning rod. LeBron James, in particular, thinks nothing of screaming a few things at Chalmers when Chalmers makes a mistake in a game. It happens almost every game, actually, and because Chalmers usually seems undeterred by it all, the Heat have never seen a reason to stop directing the in-game antics.

"We've been staying on him because we need him," Heat forward Chris Bosh said. "We knew coming into the season we needed him to be a better point guard. We all had to get better, and he's just outlasted a tremendous amount of pressure and he's responding every time, and that's what he does."

Chalmers had six points at halftime, after shooting miserably in Games 2 and 3. In the second half, he was 7 for 10 from the floor, with just one turnover in nearly 23 minutes.

"I didn't lose any confidence," Chalmers said. "I was just picking my spots better. I think I was rushing my shot, not squaring up to the basket. I watched a little bit of film on my shots, and I made the correction."

When James left the game in the fourth quarter with leg cramps, Chalmers stepped up -- much like the way he did for Kansas in that never-to-be-forgotten NCAA title game against Memphis, when he nailed a three-pointer over Derrick Rose with time running out to send the game to overtime, where the Jayhawks prevailed.

Chalmers kept the Thunder at bay, twice taking the ball with the Heat up by three and extending the lead to five both times, first on a layup with 44.6 seconds left, then with two free throws that sealed it with 13.8 seconds remaining.

The Thunder opened the game with star Kevin Durant guarding Chalmers, a move to keep Durant out of foul trouble. It worked on that front. It failed on another, the one that left Chalmers fired up about the snub.

"Yeah, I took that as a little sign of disrespect," Chalmers said. "For me, I worked too hard to be in the position I'm in now. Even though my offense wasn't clicking three games in the series, I wanted to step up for my team, and I was able to do that."

And now, he's one win away from an NBA title to go with that NCAA ring and those Alaska state championships.

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