On a team of superstars, it’s hard for role players on the bench to get noticed, much less affect a playoff series against a rival team. But Norris Cole, undefeated after three years of playoff basketball, has manged to do just that.
Cole’s season has been erratic, starting off with flashes of brilliance and ending in a months-long shooting slump. Yet, there was that expectation that he’d be a factor in the playoffs, where he’s proven up to the task since his rookie year.
Against the Charlotte Bobcats, his three-point shooting was outstanding (6-of-10) in the series. In the series against the Brooklyn Nets, Cole regressed a little, finding himself matched up against long-limbed Shaun Livingston. But against the Pacers, the “Cole Train” rides again, mixing timely shots, fearless drives and tenacious defense with veteran poise.
After a poor showing in Game 1, Miami – and Cole, in particularly – needed to respond with a strong Game 2 to minimize Indiana’s season-long goal of home-court advantage. Here are the highlights of that response:
His 11 points (including 6 on 2-of-2 shooting from beyond the arc) were instrumental to a Heat victory, 87-83, to even out the series. But his best performance was saved for Game 3 back in Miami. While only scoring 9 points, his defense on Lance Stephenson was a turning point in the series. Stephenson had torched Miami for 42 points in the first two games and his ability to create his own shot off the dribble (or initiate the offense for his teammates) was a potential fly in Miami’s soup. Enter Cole, the defensive stalwart.
As explained by Heat assistant coach Dan Craig to Grantland’s Zach Lowe, the decision to play Cole on the bigger Stephenson was born out of necessity:
We fell into it. We said, ‘Hey, Norris is our best on-ball defender, and Lance is creating a lot of their offense. That matchup has been huge for us.
While the size might seem like a mismatch for Cole, the fiery guard explained to Lowe, “I never even look at height or weight. I don’t even care.” Stephenson has been limited to just 19 points in the two games since.
But one of the most underrated moments that highlight Cole’s maturity came in Game 3, when a foul and some trash talking from Pacers backup C.J. Watson could have escalated (as seen in below):
With two intense rivals that always seem on the brink of sudden violence, an incident like this could have gotten ugly. Instead, Cole simply let Watson know he wouldn’t allow that kind, um, stuff any further. While a double technical foul was assessed, a makeup call (a personal foul on Watson) was charged seconds later. Like the superstars that lead the team, Cole let his game and not his mouth do the talking for him.
The Pacers series is not quite over but the historic postseason run will likely continue in either San Antonio of Oklahoma City in the next week or so. During the offseason, starting point guard Mario Chalmers is expected to hit the free agent market, one of several roster moves that could impact the Heat. But at least Cole is still under contract. If he continues to play at this level and if Chalmers should depart, Miami will still be in capable hands.
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