NBA Finals 2012: Players Who Must Step Up for Thunder to Avoid Elimination
Through four games of the 2012 NBA Finals, it's fairly clear who the four best players on the court are.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant make up the class of these Finals. But you don't have to be a basketball rocket scientist to know that fact.
While you could argue that the "Big Four" in this series has mostly been a wash, there's no doubting which team's supporting cast has wiped the floor with the other's.
Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Norris Cole and the rest Miami's role players have completely outplayed Oklahoma City's through the first four games. Every night, it has been someone different picking up the slack for Miami.
While LeBron has been fantastic, you can't be sure the Heat would be up 3-1 today if the supporting cast hadn't played so well to start this series.
For the Thunder to get back into these NBA Finals, that trend has to be reversed—starting in Game 5 Thursday in Miami.
The following are the players Oklahoma City needs to play better if they are to stave off elimination.
You obviously can't pin the label of "role player" on Harden, who is technically considered one of the Thunder's big three. But in these Finals, Harden hasn't played anything like the Sixth Man of the Year he was this season.
Save for a 21-point performance in Game 2, Harden has scored five, nine and eight points in the other three games. In those three, Harden has shot a combined 6-for-26 from the field, including back-to-back 2-for-10 shooting performances in Games 3 and 4.
Tuesday night's loss might have been the worst for Harden, who turned the ball over four times and committed five fouls in 37 minutes. He appeared tentative down the stretch, which led to a couple of turnovers and a missed layup that could have swung momentum back Oklahoma City's way.
If the Thunder are to take Game 5 on the road in Miami, Harden has to play well. If he shoots 2-for-10 again, this series is likely over.
During the regular season, Ibaka averaged 9.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game. This series? Ibaka sits at 6.5, 5.5 and two, all well below his regular season averages.
Consider that against the San Antonio Spurs, Ibaka averaged 12 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks as the Thunder ran away with the series. This series, however, you've heard more from Ibaka in the newspaper headlines than actually on the basketball court.
Simply put, Ibaka needs to play a bigger role in this series if Oklahoma City is going to claw its way back. His ability to hit 17-foot jump shots and defend the rim need to become stronger factors.
Has there been a more frustrating player in this series to watch than Perkins? When he's in the game, Oklahoma City essentially concedes on the offensive end to playing four-on-five basketball.
Perkins can't finish near the basket, and he's disappeared far too often on the offensive and defensive glass. It's been bad enough that coach Scott Brooks has went to Nick Collison far more as the series has dragged on.
But there's a reason why Perkins has been a fixture in OKC's starting lineup. He can defend and rebound. Perkins needs to do more of both in Game 5, especially on the offensive glass.
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