Poor play from Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole has pushed Heat to brink

Monday June 17th, 2013

Mario Chalmers finished with seven points on 2-of-10 shooting in the Heat's Game 5 loss.
Greg Nelson for Sports Illustrated

SAN ANTONIO -- There are two reasons Miami is on the brink of elimination.

Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole.

Too simplistic? Fine, here's some obligatory context. Miami is down 3-2 to the Spurs in the NBA Finals because its defense stinks, because Dwyane Wade has been inconsistent, because Chris Andersen has been such a liability that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra hasn't let him see the floor in the last two games.

But let's be real: Chalmers and Cole are killing the defending champions.

In Sunday's 114-104 loss in Game 5, Chalmers had seven points (on 2-of-10 shooting), one assist and two turnovers. That made his six-point, five-assist, four-turnover output in Game 4 positively Stocktonesque.

GOLLIVER: LeBron, Heat produce another uneven effort in Finals

Cole? The only reason anyone knows he was on the floor was because of the three-pointer he bricked and the turnover he coughed up. He didn't score a point, didn't hand out an assist and didn't do anything in his seven minutes to stop Tony Parker, who eyeballed him like a starving lion staring down a T-bone steak on his way to a 26-point, five-assist night.

Does Parker make a lot of opponents look like amateurs? Of course. He was a top-five MVP candidate most of the season and might have finished there had an injury not derailed his final month. But it isn't his defense that is causing Chalmers and Cole to shoot so poorly, nor is he creating most of the turnovers. That's on them.

For all the praise we heap on Pat Riley for throwing his rings on the table and luring LeBron James and Chris Bosh to South Beach, he left the point guard position awful thin. During the Heat's run through the Eastern Conference, we forgot how hapless they can be against dynamic point guards because they didn't have to play any. Brandon Jennings is good, but the Bucks were hopelessly overmatched. Chicago's Derrick Rose watched the second-round series in a suit. Indiana's George Hill can make a few shots, but he isn't going to torch a team off the dribble.

The guys who can, often do. Rajon Rondo has been a perpetual thorn in the Heat's side during the regular season and playoffs. Russell Westbrook averaged 27 points and 6.6 assists against Miami in the Finals last year. In fairness, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and Deron Williams put up so-so numbers against the Heat this season, but you have to figure they would have been a Parker-like handful in the playoffs.

THOMSEN: Ginobili, Spurs turn back clock in Game 5

Think the Heat locker room understands how badly they need Chalmers or Cole to step up? Uh, yeah.

"We need them to be aggressive, to make plays, to hit shots," Bosh said. "Mario had some good looks. He had a ton of good looks. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't. But it's all about defense. We scored 107 points. That's enough. We have to focus on the defense first."

Chalmers has always been something of an enigma. He tantalizes you with a scoring outburst one day (19 points in Game 2) and makes you slap your head in frustration the next. He was a starter his first year, a reserve for most of his next two and a starter again for the last two seasons. Spoelstra had issues with Chalmers' attitude and inconsistent play early in the Big Three era and each of Miami's stars has taken a turn publicly berating Chalmers for one thing or another.

He's a whipping boy, an easy target. But it's easy to draw a line between his success and Miami's. During the regular season, Chalmers shot 45.3 percent in victories. When the Heat lost, that number dipped to 30.6 percent.

The Heat need Chalmers or Cole -- or better yet, both -- to give them something in the same way they need James, Wade or Bosh. See, this series was never about Big Three vs. Big Three. It was about the role players. San Antonio's Danny Green has made three-pointers at a record clip, compensating for Manu Ginobili's struggles for most of the series. When Parker needs a breather, Gary Neal has been there with steady minutes. Second-year forward Kawhi Leonard -- who is developing into much more than a role player -- has had an impact on both ends of the court, averaging 12.2 points and 10.2 rebounds.

GOLLIVER: Parker: I can't believe Green is still open

Miami? Mike Miller made shots early in the Finals and Ray Allen has made them throughout. But Udonis Haslem has given the Heat nothing, Shane Battier hasn't contributed much in limited minutes and Chalmers and Cole have forced Spoelstra to go with a big lineup far more often than he would like. To everyone who suggests the Heat are better off blanketing Parker with James' smothering defense, remember this: The more minutes James has to play on Parker, the more energy he won't have on the offensive end.

"We need a big game, me or Cole," Chalmers said. "One of us has got to step up and make sure everything is going right. I'll put it on my shoulders."

Every series, every game is a referendum on the Big Three. It's just the cost of doing business. But Parker is running roughshod over Miami, laughing at everyone it lines up against him, attacking his way to a possible Finals MVP. On the brink of elimination, with an ugly offseason ahead of them, the Heat need Chalmers or Cole in the worst possible way.

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