LOS ANGELES -- This could be the last time he'll see the ball in his hands in a tense finish against the Celtics, with a title on the line. James Jones may be the new 3-point contest winner, but he's also realistic.
"I think people can guess where the ball's going in that situation," he said.
But for one night, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were mere courtside spectators, standing around and watching the Heat's fourth (fifth?) option in a shootout against two players standing in Miami's way of a conference championship. The coincidence at Staples Center was impossible to ignore, just like the steep credentials of the two contest favorites. Paul Pierce was the reigning 3-point contest champ. Ray Allen just recently overtook Reggie Miller for most 3-pointers made in a career. That they also play for the Celtics, locked in a heated chase with Miami for best record in the East, managed to stir the drama a bit. And yet they were no match for a player who's not even considered the go-to 3-point shooter on his own team.
"Surprised?" asked Pierce. "Yeah, I guess you could say that. Surprised."
Still, the 3-point contest showed just how Jones has transformed himself into an additional weapon for the Heat, someone who overcame a nasty, career-disrupting wrist injury to make double-teams pay for being too respectful to LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh. Jones was largely ignored in the buildup for the contest, where he was a controversial choice to compete ahead of Kyle Korver and other specialists with better percentages. And he's often ignored when the defense would rather smother the Heat's Big Three and dare someone like Jones to be a hero.
"It's a situation I've grown comfortable with," he said. "I prefer for other guys to get all of the attention while I sit in the corner and punish teams. It's a very familiar territory. I'm not the superstar on my team but I know I'm an integral piece and guys like myself help teams win."
Jones was considered one of the capable, though not premier, 3-point shooters since being taken 49th in the 2003 Draft. He shot over 40 percent in a season only once in his career, although he's at 41 percent this season. But he became a long-distance savior for Miami after Mike Miller suffered a fractured thumb in preseason and only returned last month, still struggling to find a rhythm. Jones knows all about the problems of recovering from surgery; two years ago he required the procedure for his right wrist and rightly wondered whether his touch would suffer.
"That was the low point of my professional career," he said. "As a shooter I felt at that time I was really starting to find my niche in this league and to have that injury, my walls came crumbling down. So this is redemption for me. I always wanted to prove myself that I can be labeled as one of the best shooters in the game and I think I proved that tonight."
He knows he'll need to follow up when it counts. As superb as Wade and LeBron have been this season, each being deservedly mentioned as MVP candidates, the season may hinge on whether any of Miami's role players can produce the occasional big night in the spring and summer and give Wade and LeBron a quick breather.
"We know the Big Three is the focus of our team," Jones said. "But when teams pack it in against those others, we have to be ready. I think teams have started to pay attention to us. Those guys made the game easier for us, and players like myself have to do our part to make it easier for them."
The backdrop for the conference final that everyone (outside of Chicago and Orlando) wants to see, Heat vs. Celtics, has been created, then. Miami is 0-for-3 and only played two decent quarters against Boston so far. Given the Celtics' obvious advantages in experience, chemistry and size, Miami must seek another method to snap the string of defeats or at least give themselves a realistic chance to capture the East. Could Jones and a healthier Miller give the Heat a new, long-distance twist?
"We know we've had our struggles against the Celtics in the past," Jones said, "but today the Heat came out on top so I'm excited about that."
The ball will find its way quite often to Allen and Pierce the next time it's Celtics vs. Heat, both players more qualified to take the last shot than Jones. But if Jones can connect against the Celtics the way he did Saturday night, then maybe such a game won't come down to that.
-- Shaun Powell
2010: Pierce redeems himself to claim Foot Locker Three-Point title
Getting redemption the only place possible for the moment, Paul Pierce of the Celtics atoned for a bad showing his last time in the competition by winning the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest during the 2010 All-Star Weekend in Dallas. After posting 17 points in the first round, Pierce out-dueled Stephen Curry of the Warriors and Chauncey Billups of the Nuggest in the final round.
2009: Heat's cook ends Kapono's reign
Miami's Daequan Cook ended Jason Kapono's two-year reign as the NBA's best exhibition sharpshooter, besting Orlando's Rashard Lewis in overtime in Phoenix.
2008: Kapono repeats with dominating Three-Point performance
Jason Kapono kept his Contest title and dominated the 2008 field. Kapono notched 25 points in the final round in New Orleans, tying the all-time record set in 1986 by Mark Price. He set a new mark for most points in a final round of the Shootout, flipping in 20-of-25 shot attempts (including 10 in a row from the third ball of the first rack to the second ball of the third rack) for a total of 25 points.
2007: Kapono ties final-round record
Jason Kapono tied Mark Price's final-round record with 24 points and outlasted Gilbert Arenas on his way to the 2007 Contest title in Las Vegas. Arenas notched a first-round high of 23 points and had 17 in the finals.
2006: Dirk outlasts Arenas and Allen for Three-Point title
Dirk Nowitzki defeated Arenas and Ray Allen to take home the victory in the Contest as part of All-Star Weekend in Houston. Nowitzki finished the 2006 competition with 18 points in the final round, while Arenas tallied 16 and Allen collected 15.
2011 -- James Jones, Miami
2010 -- Paul Pierce, Boston
2009 -- Daequan Cook, Miami
2008 -- Jason Kapono, Toronto
2007 -- Jason Kapono, Miami Heat
2006 -- Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas
2005 -- Quentin Richardson, Phoenix
2004 -- Voshon Lenard, Denver
2003 -- Peja Stojakovic, Sacramento
2002 -- Peja Stojakovic, Sacramento
2001 -- Ray Allen, Milwaukee
2000 -- Jeff Hornacek, Utah
1998 -- Jeff Hornacek, Utah
1997 -- Steve Kerr, Chicago
1996 -- Tim Legler, Washington
1995 -- Glen Rice, Miami
1994 -- Mark Price, Cleveland
1993 -- Mark Price, Cleveland
1992 -- Craig Hodges, Chicago
1991 -- Craig Hodges, Chicago
1990 -- Craig Hodges, Chicago
1989 -- Dale Ellis, Seattle
1988 -- Larry Bird, Boston
1987 -- Larry Bird, Boston
1986 -- Larry Bird, Boston