By Dylan Barmmer
Call him Mr. March Madness.
Or Super Mario.
Or The HEAT's unsung X-Factor.
Whatever you call Mario Chalmers, make sure to show the man some serious respect.
Because over the course of his basketball career, the fifth-year HEAT point guard has proven time and time again that he is, above all else, a winner. With a serious skill set that includes a lightning-quick pair of hands and seemingly anywhere-inside-the-arena shooting range.
And a remarkable flair for coming up big in crucial, game-defining moments.
With March Madness now burning up the sports airwaves, you're likely to see and hear unforgettable evidence of Chalmers' clutch character. And probably more than once or twice.
In 2008, Chalmers was a junior at the University of Kansas when he authored what is now known as "Mario's Miracle" to help lead the Jayhawks to their fifth NCAA Championship.
Chalmers' dramatic 3-ponter with 2.1 seconds left in regulation knotted the Championship Game against the Memphis Tigers at 63-63 and forced overtime. Kansas went on to win the game 75-68, and Chalmers was named Most Outstanding Player after scoring 18 points, grabbing 3 rebounds, dishing 3 assists and snaring a game-high 4 steals.
Chalmers did what HEAT fans have now become accustomed to watching him do in that game. He drained a big-time, long-range shot. And he repeatedly disrupted the opposing team's offensive flow on the defensive end.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Chalmers decided to declare for the 2008 NBA Draft after that virtuoso performance, which capped a season that saw him average 12.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, a team-high 2.5 steals and a team-high 4.3 assists. His 97 steals tied the school single-season record he had set the season before, and he also led the Jayhawks with a sensational 46.8% mark from behind the 3-point arc.
The HEAT selected Chalmers in the second round, with the 34th overall pick of the draft, and he immediately became a key component for coach Erik Spoelstra, then in his first season at the HEAT's helm.
Chalmers started all 82 regular season games at point guard as a rookie in 2008-09, averaging 10.0 points, 4.9 assists, 2.8 rebounds and a remarkable 1.95 steals. Proving his uncanny acumen for taking the ball away from opponents translated from college to the professional game, Chalmers' steals average led all rookies, and was the fourth-best among all NBA players. In fact, in just his fourth NBA game, Chalmers set a new HEAT record by racking up a remarkable 9 steals in a 106-83 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Nov. 5, 2008.
Chalmers has continued to play a pivotal role for Spoelstra and the HEAT, averaging 8.4 points, 3.6 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 359 regular-season games in a HEAT uniform. He has also drilled 483 3-pointers at a 37.1% clip, including a HEAT-high 101 at a career-best 38.8% last season (he also shot a career-high 44.8% from the field overall) and a career-high 110 so far this season.
Chalmers has also shown toughness and an ability to play through or bounce back quickly from injury, and has started every game he's appeared in at point guard over the past two seasons, becoming a staple of the HEAT's starting lineup alongside All-Stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. While he's not a traditional point guard by any means, he's not operating in anything like a traditional lineup these days. And his ability to both penetrate and stretch the floor on offense and disrupt flow and spark fastbreaks on defense are absolutely vital to the HEAT finding uncommon success via an unconventional approach.
A truly versatile and deceptively athletic player, Chalmers also seems to exude a calm coolness that mirrors his home state of Alaska. The unflappable and ever-confident Chalmers even provided a cool off-court assist that many HEAT fans may not know about, giving his original number 6 to James when the reigning NBA and NBA Finals MVP announced he would be joining the HEAT on July 8, 2010. Chalmers returned to the 15 he wore while carving his name into the eternal annals of March Madness, and it has seemed to suit him very well.
This March, Chalmers has played a vital role in the HEAT's own version of March Madness.
As the HEAT have stretched their historic 27-games-and-counting winning streak through all but the first day of February and deep into the final days of March, Chalmers has frequently played at a high level, especially of late. In 15 games in March, all HEAT wins, Chalmers has averaged 10.3 points, 3.3 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals -- while shooting 46.0% from the field, including 43.7% from long-range.
He's had a few positively huge games in March, and each was of extreme importance in the HEAT extending their franchise record-setting run of unbeaten games.
Chalmers poured in 26 points and grabbed 7 rebounds -- both HEAT-highs -- and added 2 assists and 2 steals in a 105-91 win over the rival Indiana Pacers on March 10. The Sunday evening game was nationally televised, and Chalmers' offensive explosion helped blow up the physical Pacers' blueprint of overloading defensively on James and Wade. Chalmers canned 7 of 9 shots from the field, including 5 of 6 3-pointers, and was a perfect 7-for-7 from the free-throw line as the HEAT extended their streak to 18 straight wins.
Eight days later, Chalmers scored 21 points to go with 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 1 block in a thrilling, come-from-behind 105-103 victory over the Celtics in Boston. Chalmers hit 6 of 10 field goals, including 4 of 5 from long-distance, and swished 5 of 6 free throws as the HEAT erased a 17-point first-half deficit and mounted a late comeback to stretch their streak to 23 consecutive wins -- and surpass the 2007-08 Houston Rockets' winning streak, which had previously ranked as the NBA's second-longest ever, behind the 1971-72 L.A. Lakers' 33-game unbeaten run.
The next game out, Chalmers scored 17 points and added 2 assists as the HEAT pulled off an even more improbable comeback on the road, roaring back from down by as many as 27 points in the second half to post a 98-95 victory over the Cavaliers in Cleveland and push the win streak to 24 straight games. Chalmers was once again incredibly efficient, nailing 5 of 8 field goals, including 3 of 6 3-pointers, and 4 of 5 free throws.
The following game, Chalmers scored 11 points, grabbed a game-high 4 steals, dished 3 assists and canned 3 of 6 3-pointers as the HEAT topped the Detroit Pistons 103-89 to extend the win streak to 25 games. Chalmers scored all 11 points in the first half, helping keep the HEAT in the thick of things before they really ramped up the defensive intensity during a dominant second half.
Two games later, Chalmers helped James carry the scoring load while Wade rested a sore right knee, scoring 17 points, handing out 5 assists, snaring a game-high 3 steals and blocking 1 shot as the HEAT beat the Magic 108-94 in Orlando to run the streak to 27 games. Chalmers drained 4 of 5 3-pointers, including a perfect 3 of 3 in the first half -- which saw him score 13 points, dish 3 assists, grab 2 rebounds and 1 steal and block 1 shot as the HEAT built a 55-46 halftime lead on the road. He also finished a perfect 5 of 5 from the line in the game.
Chalmers also had a brilliant, blistering and HEAT history-making game pre-streak. In a thrilling 128-99 win at Sacramento on Jan. 12, he scored a career-high 34 points and tied Brian Shaw's long-standing HEAT record by draining 10 3-pointers. Chalmers finished 12-of-16 from the field in his breakout scoring game, including 10-of-13 from long-range, in just 30 minutes of play.
In fact, a closer look at Chalmers' offensive output reveals a telling tale for the HEAT as a whole. Put simply, when Chalmers scores in double figures, the HEAT are practically guaranteed a victory.
Chalmers has scored 10 or more points 21 times this season, and the HEAT are 20-1 in those 21 games -- including 6-0 in such games in March and 11-0 during their remarkable winning streak.
The HEAT also do quite well when Chalmers gets those exceptionally quick hands on a lot of loose balls. Chalmers has grabbed 3 or more steals 19 times this season, and the HEAT are 18-1 in those 19 games -- including 3-0 in such games in March and 6-0 during the streak.
Of course, the HEAT haven't lost much at all this season, compiling an NBA-best 56-14 record and steadily building and maintaining that amazing streak for more than 50 calendar days now. Although James and Wade have received most of the praise and headlines for this historic HEAT season, Chalmers has also been an integral part of all that winning -- and not just in March.
Chalmers has started and played in all 70 of those games, averaging 8.5 points, 3.4 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals, and has hit a career-high 110 3-pointers -- at a career-best 41.7% clip. He ranks fifth on the HEAT in scoring, third in assists and third in steals -- and third in both 3-pointers made and 3-point field goal percentage, just a few ticks off the blistering paces of veteran sharp-shooters Shane Battier and Ray Allen (the NBA's all-time leader in 3-pointers made, as well as HEAT's current leader with 122). And Chalmers has done all this while sharing a good amount of playing time with emerging second-year point guard Norris Cole, causing his minutes-per-game average to dip from last season's 28.5 to 26.6.
Chalmers is also one of just a handful of NBA players (only 7 as of March 22) to have snared 100 steals and drained 100 3-pointers so far this season.
Chalmers seems to be playing his best basketball as the HEAT gear up for what they hope is another deep, lucrative postseason run. And if history is any indication, HEAT fans can expect Chalmers to once again elevate his game when the second season kicks in.
In 56 playoff games for the HEAT, Chalmers has averaged 9.4 points, 3.2 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.4 steals -- while hitting 78 3-pointers at a 35.9% rate. He's upped his scoring and rebounding averages under the white hot lights of the NBA playoffs, and averaged 11.3 points, 3.9 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals while nailing 33 3-pointers as the HEAT captured the franchise's second NBA Championship in the 2012 postseason.
Chalmers exploded for 25 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in Game 3 of the HEAT's Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Pacers, then helped the HEAT send the Pacers packing by pairing 11 rebounds with his 8 points and 3 assists in Game 5 and pumping in 15 points, including 3 3-pointers, in the closeout Game 6 win.
Chalmers then had a huge 22-point, 6-assist, 4-rebound and 2-assist outing in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, helping the HEAT down the Boston Celtics in a 115-111 thriller. Chalmers scored 9 points or more in all 7 games of the grueling series, dished out at least 6 assists in 3 of the games and snared 8 total steal.
But it was in the 2012 NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder where Chalmers came up biggest -- once again proving his love for the Big Moments. He poured in 25 points and added 3 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals in a 104-98 Game 4 win, scoring 12 points in the pivotal fourth quarter. And in the closeout Game 5, Chalmers had 10 points, 7 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals as the HEAT claimed the NBA Championship with a 121-106 victory.
Chalmers has accomplished all this before his 27th birthday, which he likely won't have much time to celebrate on May 19 (the HEAT hope to be deep in the midst of another playoff run by then). And the truth is, Chalmers' pedigree as a winning basketball player runs even deeper than his college and professional careers.
As a prep star in Anchorage, Alaska, Chalmers led Bartlett High School to consecutive state championships in 2002 and 2003 -- and a runner-up finish in 2004. He was also named 4A Alaska State Player of the Year three years in a row, joining former Duke University star Trajan Langdon as the only player to ever earn the honor three times.
When you add up all the winning, clutch shooting and ballhawking defensive accomplishments of Chalmers over his basketball career, something becomes very clear:
Mario Chalmers is a winner. And a vital ingredient in the HEAT's winning formula.