Miami Heat: The Fourth Man in Miami

Rob Mahoney@RobMahoneyNBA Lead WriterJune 8, 2012

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 07:  Udonis Haslem #40 of the Miami Heat reacts in the first half against the Boston Celtics in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on June 7, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Miami Heat's supporting cast is incredibly limited and often unproductive. They're also all that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh have, and so for better and worse, the Heat's title hopes rest on the shoulders of those undersized bigs, inconsistent ball-handlers, and streaky shooters. Even with each of the three stars at their most brilliant, those role players have to contribute and rotate, lest the Celtics take Game 7.

But in terms of series import, one of those supporting players stands out above all. One could argue for the importance of Shane Battier, whose defensive versatility has proven invaluable, or Mario Chalmers, whose activity on both ends gives Miami a much larger margin for error. But Udonis Haslem holds more responsibility and provides more value than both of those players, and has truly separated himself from the rest of the Heat's sometimes problematic complement.

We shouldn't go too over the top in our praise of Haslem; his lack of size and diminished speed have both been costly against the Celtics, and Haslem certainly has nights where he and his jumper don't totally agree.

But he's also collected an astounding 29.9 percent of the available defensive rebounds during the playoffs thus far, the highest mark among active postseason players and third overall behind only Reggie Evans and Josh Smith. Haslem has wiped the defensive glass spotless, and done well enough on the offensive boards to rank just outside of the playoffs' top 10.

That's very specific production, but it's elite performance in that area of specific production. Battier, Chalmers and the rest of the Heat role players offer their contributions in whatever form they can, but rarely do they come in such impressive volume, and—considering Chris Bosh's injury—such an essential form. The Heat badly needed interior defense, spot-up shooting, and rebounding, and though the D hasn't been perfect, Haslem has been excellent in both other regards.

He's more than just another role player at this point, though for simplicity's sake, he'll so often be lumped in with that group. Semantics are what they are, the more important thing is that Haslem's offerings are properly appraised and appreciated, and from a Celtics perspective, properly accounted for. This is Miami's fourth man, and if the Heat are to win Game 7 or anything more, he'll be right in the thick of countless possessions, boxing out relentlessly and fighting for his life while defending the low block.