MIAMI -- He seems to take a beating from teammates and coaches. He seems to be the little brother, the step-child that shoulders blame when it needs to be passed out.
But Mario Chalmers always remains unfazed, undeterred, undaunted. Why? Because he thinks he's already the best damn player on the floor, that's why.
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"Mario has that thing, that thing called heart, and 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," said Dwyane Wade. "But tonight 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. We don't win the game tonight without what he did in the fourth quarter making some baskets going to the hole."
I think Wade just wrote this column for me. Because the Heat absolutely don't win without Chalmers. His 25 points were massive, his 9-of-15 shooting huge, and his game-sealing free throws giant. The Heat are all about LeBron James, Wade and Chris Bosh. But the way you win championships is getting production from an unexpected source, and Chalmers was exactly that on Tuesday.
With Miami clinging to a three-point lead with 55 seconds left, LeBron was forced to the bench because of leg cramps. The Heat were down their star, their playmaker and had to find new options. Obviously there was the high pick-and-roll between Wade and Bosh, which is what the Heat ran. But with the Thunder focusing so much attention on that, Chalmers found a hole and made a play.
"You know, when one of our leaders are down, I have to step up," Chalmers said. "Just help the team out the best way I could. Coming out the timeout I told D-Wade, 'Find me. Let's get this win. Let's put the dagger in them.' He found me and I was able to get to the hole."
Coming into Game 4, Chalmers had made only two of his last 15 shots. He was 3 for 10 from 3, with most of those being very clean looks. But he's a player with ample amounts of confidence, a self belief that can be very powerful.
"That's the million-dollar question," Shane Battier said about Chalmers confidence. "People pay a lot of money to hear seminars and read books about this very subject. I don't think Mario has gone to Ted.com and downloaded inspirational speeches. The kid is a gamer."
Chalmers' big Game 4 has to be painful for the Thunder because they expect that kind of production from their third wheel, James Harden, but haven't seen anything of the sort the past two games. Harden was only 2 for 10 for eight points, a second successive game with those type of numbers.
Consider: Harden had scored in single digits only four times all season. He has already done it three times in this series. For whatever reason, the beard is not being feared, respected or even mildly considered at this point. Harden has disappeared, while Miami is finding major contributions from different places.
"This game is about makes and misses," Scott Brooks said. "Some nights you're going to make those, some nights you're going to miss them, but your effort has to be there. I love James' effort and that's all I judge him on. If he wasn't playing hard, yes, I would have taken him out earlier and sat him and put somebody else in. We have a standard of play, and effort-wise I think everybody lived up to it tonight."
With the Heat trailing 33-16 late in the third quarter, rookie backup point guard Norris Cole dropped a big 3 to cut it to 14 heading to the second. But more importantly, it sparked a 16-0 Miami run that put them right back in the game. The Heat reserves, led by Chalmers, stepped up in a big spot and produced. It has been a critique of this team for two years but in the biggest of moments, they were there.
"We have a lot of talented guys that are ready to step up at a moment's notice, and we kept telling Rio he was about overdue for a great game, and just to be able to have those guys to lean on for support when it's time, especially in big moments like this, I think it's huge," Chris Bosh said. "I have to tip my hat to Rio. He gets the game ball today."
Maybe Chalmers drew some extra inspiration from a perceived slight. With Kevin Durant battling foul issues the past two games, OKC decided to try and hide their star on Chalmers to start the game.
"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."
Supposedly disrespected by the Thunder, sometimes even by his own teammates, and often by basically everyone, Chalmers reminded everyone he has got a lot of value. There's a reason the Heat wanted to keep him around this season instead of letting him walk.
Chalmers hasn't been a player that garners much love or attention. But without his play in Game 4, this series looks a whole lot different. You've got to have some serious stones to be a player like Chalmers, unafraid to step up and take shots away from LeBron, Wade and Bosh. Which is exactly what Miami needs.