DALLAS -- The shortest starting shooting guard in the league is also the Dallas Mavericks' best penetrating point guard. So why not just call him what he was in Thursday's Game 5, a highly effective combo guard.
J.J. Barea played the game of his life Thursday on the grandest stage and in the most crucial game in franchise history.
"He’s been our little war-," Tyson Chandler said before stopping himself. "He’s been our big warrior throughout the entire season…He’s been our spark-plug.”
The barely 5-foot-10 Barea finished with a whirling-dervish stat line of 17 points and five assists. He dropped a playoff-high 4-of-5 from 3-point range and converted some incredible drives with high-banking finishes. His team-high eight points in the third quarter, absolutely victimizing Mike Bibby, helped Dallas go up 75-69 with 5:50 to go in the quarter.
He hit two deep 3s, one while falling to his back, and then he took Bibby to the right and banked in an off-balance, 12-foot runner.
"I’m a streaky shooter," Barea said. "If I get one in or something, I’m going to get going."
Barea is making his coach's decision to insert him into the starting lineup prior to Game 4 look like a brilliant strategic move. Barea has succeeded in bringing an additional playmaking element to the starting five without affecting the overall defense. Barea's two starts in the NBA Finals has matched his starts in the regular season.
As a starter against the Miami Heat, Barea is averaging 12.5 points and 4.5 rebounds with just two turnovers in 24 minutes a game.
And as usual, Barea, averaging 8.6 points and 3.3 assists in the postseason, deflected credit to the coach who trusts him and teammates who have grown to love him.
"It’s incredible the confidence he [Carlisle] has in me and what it does to my game. It's amazing," Barea said. "I’m just lucky to have him as a coach and to have the teammates I’ve got."
Barea is now a player the Heat must deal with defensively. The move to the starting lineup allows him to start the first and third quarters against the older and slower Bibby as opposed to be the bigger and stronger Mario Chalmers. His penetrations infuriated the Lakers to the point that center Andrew Bynum took him down with a mid-air forearm shiver in the Game 4 clincher.
"J.J. Barea was phenomenal behind screens, making shots," Dirk Nowitzki said. "J.J. in the starting lineup [was] attacking, got to the lane a couple of times, made some lay-ups. I thought that opened up his 3-ball."