Haslem starring as Miami’s ‘glue’ guy in finals
For all the glitzy personnel moves the Miami Heat made last
summer to largely reshape the NBA’s balance of power, there was one
deal the Dallas Mavericks desperately wish never happened.
And we’re not talking about the ones LeBron James, Dwyane Wade
and Chris Bosh signed.
Nope, the Mavs were hoping to land Udonis Haslem a year ago when
he hit the open market. Given what he did against them in the 2006
NBA finals – and what he’s doing so far in the 2011 series rematch,
which resumes Tuesday night with Game 4 in Dallas – it’s easy to
see why Haslem was in such high demand.
He’s averaging a less-than-whopping 5 points and 4.3 rebounds in
the first three games, but with Haslem, the stat line never tells
anything remotely close to the entire story. He is Miami’s
grittiest player, and the way he forced Mavs’ star Dirk Nowitzki
into a missed jumper on the final possession of Game 3 ensured that
the Heat would not only win that night but reclaim the home-court
advantage in these finals.
”We would have loved to have him,” Nowitzki said.
”Unfortunately, obviously, he stayed there. I guess a good move on
Maybe a real good move.
Haslem gave the Heat one heck of a hometown discount last
summer, when the Miami native agreed to a deal worth $20 million
for five seasons, over 40 percent less than what he likely
potentially could have collected from Dallas, Denver or other
suitors. That’s what being around family means to Haslem, and when
he says that, he’s not speaking of his relatives. The Heat are as
dear to him as anything, especially after they took a chance on him
eight years ago.
”It wasn’t a hard decision,” Haslem said. ”This is where I
wanted to be and I couldn’t see myself leaving.”
Haslem averaged 6.2 points and 6 rebounds in Miami’s six-game
win over Dallas in the 2006 finals, yet it was what he did in the
title-clinching game that made a giant impact on the series.
Playing with an injured shoulder, Haslem – who turns 31 on
Thursday, when Miami and Dallas will play Game 5 – scored 17 points
and grabbed 10 rebounds, and nagged Nowitzki on defense for much of
that game as well. He earned a reputation as a bit of a
Dirk-stopper in that series, and with control of the 2011 finals in
the balance on Sunday, Haslem took a turn guarding Nowitzki
Nowitzki caught an inbounds pass at the top of the key with 4.4
seconds remaining and Dallas down by two, then tried to drive right
before spinning back toward the foul line. Haslem stayed draped on
him the whole way, kept his arms high as Nowitzki tried to shoot,
then left them up until the ball bounced harmlessly off the rim.
Only then did he punch the air in celebration, knowing the Heat had
just gotten their biggest win of the season.
In Game 2, Nowitzki made a game-winner at the end, that time
with Bosh guarding him. Haslem demanded the job in Game 3.
”I was very confident in UD, understanding he wanted that
challenge the last game, and he wasn’t able to be put in that
position,” Wade said. ”Put him back in that position this time. I
knew he was going to at least make it tough. If Dirk makes the
shot, at least do his job and make sure he takes a fadeaway at the
Haslem took the longest of all possible routes to his hometown
team. He played college ball at Florida with now-Heat-teammate Mike
Miller, ballooned to the neighborhood of 300 pounds, then started
his pro career in France and shed the weight – noting many times
since that French food is not the easiest thing to surround
yourself with and still slim down so dramatically. Now a lean 230,
Haslem has been part of Miami’s rotation since his arrival in
His toughness is the stuff of legend in the Heat locker room,
which is why three events from the past year stand out: How he wept
when the realization hit that the Heat may not have the money to
keep him last summer; how emotional he got when talking about his
recently deceased mother before the season and how she wanted to
see her boy win another NBA title; and how he insisted that what
some thought was a season-ending injury on Nov. 20 would not hold
him back for long.
Haslem ruptured a ligament in his left foot and needed surgery.
His comeback was months ahead of what some estimates said would be
the schedule. His first post-injury impact came during Game 2 of
the Eastern Conference finals against Chicago, when he willed the
Heat to a series-changing win.
There’s no holding him back now, and even though there’s still
some soreness and fatigue in the foot, the lure of a title keeps
”I didn’t know what I would be able to give, be able to
contribute,” Haslem said. ”I figured I would be able to come back
maybe five, 10 minutes a game, some leadership, some toughness.
Myself being in that position, it’s been a blessing. My teammates
have stayed behind me. Coaching staff is encouraging me. It’s been
a work in progress.”
It’s also earned him the respect of the Mavericks, Nowitzki in
Haslem might not be thought of as an All-Star, but around the
league, his value to Miami is perfectly clear.
”He’s one of the best defenders we have at the power forward
spot,” Nowitzki said. ”He’s active. To me, it really hurt them
him being out for so long. He’s back in time. He’s kind of a glue
guy. He does all the little things. He sets screens, he does all
the dirty work. He’s a good rebounder. He’s great in
pick-and-rolls, showing. He does all the little things. They got
him right back in time.”
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