MIAMI — Just so Mario Chalmers is clear, this has nothing to do with his contract situation. Chalmers can be a free agent this summer, and it is entirely possible that he won’t be back with the Heat. But, no, he says, that’s not the reason he has slipped into what appears to be an unbreakable funk.
“I am not even thinking about that,” he said Wednesday. “Whatever happens this summer, happens.”
We have seen this from Chalmers before — and he finds that strangely comforting. He is not, nor will he ever be, one of the Heat’s top offensive options, but he is decidedly capable of a big scoring game in an important situation, pushing his more celebrated Miami teammates to a win they might not have otherwise gotten.
It happened twice last year, when Chalmers notched 19 points in a Game 2 win, and again in the Heat’s stunning comeback win in Game 6, when Chalmers had 20 points. He helped seal the Finals in 2012 against the Thunder, when he scored 25 points in a key Game 4.
You know how it plays out from there — we all reminisce about the shot that Chalmers made to win Kansas the national championship in 2008, the Heat’s stars give some pat quotes about how Chalmers isn’t afraid of the big stage and we all move on from there.
The problem has been that the Heat have not seen that version of Chalmers in quite some time. Not just in the Finals, but in the playoffs in general. In 18 playoff games, Chalmers has scored in double figures just four times, the last coming when he had 11 points against the Nets in the second game of the conference semifinals. That was five weeks ago.
“It’s tough to actually let it go, it is tough to get away from it,” Chalmers said. “But at the same time, it gives me more confidence in myself that people are expecting it from me, people know what I can do, people know I am capable of doing this.”
Chalmers’ teammates are trying to nudge him back to being his old self.
“We’re going to continue to give him confidence,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “Mario is a big piece of what we do, and we’re missing that piece right now, for whatever the reason is.
"But as a team, we're going to continue to give him confidence so when he has his shot, shoot it, take it. Defensively, Mario is someone who we depend on to cause havoc, and we need him to do that.”
Indeed, it’s not just that Chalmers has just 10 total points in three Finals games. It’s that he has not played well defensively, and he has failed to take care of the ball, committing nine turnovers.
Still, he can probably take some solace in noting the Game 3 performance of Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, who struggled in the first two games but had 29 points on Tuesday. That’s the kind of unexpected turnaround Chalmers has delivered in the past.
It hasn’t helped that Chalmers’ backup, Norris Cole, hasn’t been much better in this series. Cole has scored 10 total points, too, on 4-for-15 shooting, and for long stretches, coach Erik Spoelstra has gone without a point guard on the floor at all. The Heat can get away with that because they have ballhandlers like Wade, LeBron James and Ray Allen, but it is not ideal.
Cole and Chalmers have been left in the dust by the Spurs duo of Tony Parker and Patty Mills. That’s got to change for Miami — its point guards at least have to close the gap with the Spurs.
“One thing you can’t control in the game of basketball (is) if a shot goes in or not, but you can control how you defend,” James said. “You can control how much energy you bring to the game, how much effort you bring to the game.
"If our two point guards do that, we can be OK with that. I know our two point guards, they’re very passionate. They’ve got a lot of pride. And I know they’re looking forward to learning from what they did (Tuesday), and trying to be much better in Game 4.”
Chalmers, for one, can at least sit back and reflect on the big performances he had in important moments during the Heat’s back-to-back championships. That helps him deflect the criticism he has been receiving lately.
“It does not bother me,” he said. “I look at the two rings and remember how much hard work I had to put in, that we had to put in just to get to those rings. I just go back to the days when it was all grinding.”