NBA Playoffs 2013: X-Factors Who Will Determine Conference Finals
While the NBA playoffs usually showcase the league's biggest stars, there are a number of unheralded players who are just as important to a team's success.
As much as fans would like to believe that LeBron James is his whole team and the San Antonio Spurs could not possibly win without Tony Parker, this is simply not true. Sometimes, it is the lesser-known guys who make the biggest difference.
These players will not get a lot of publicity during the conference finals, but their efforts will play a huge role in deciding who advances to the next round.
Miami Heat: Chris Andersen
Although Chris Andersen did not contribute much on offense against the Chicago Bulls, he did more than enough on the defensive end to help his team immensely.
The Birdman had at least two blocks in each of the first three games and played solid defense on Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. If the Heat are going to beat the Pacers, he will once again need to come through on that side of the court.
Indiana has one of the best frontcourts in the league between Roy Hibbert and David West. The two of them can cause fits for the undersized Heat if given the chance.
Andersen needs to make sure he takes advantage of his time on the court by bringing his usual high-energy play. If he can continue to play strong defense, Miami will be just fine in this series.
Indiana Pacers: Lance Stephenson
Paul George turned heads this season as he led the team in scoring en route to winning the league's Most Improved Player award. His efforts, along with Roy Hibbert and David West inside, have the team competing in the Eastern Conference finals.
However, it was Lance Stephenson that helped the team advance past the New York Knicks with a fantastic performance in Game 6.
The guard scored 25 points with 10 rebounds in the win after averaging only 8.8 points during the regular season. While it's unlikely he is able to consistently produce these types of numbers, his contributions throughout the postseason have been vital.
Stephenson is a very good defender who is also averaging 8.1 rebounds per game in the postseason. This will be necessary to try to slow down Dwyane Wade, who contributes a lot as a scorer while also being one of the best rebounding guards in the league.
If the young player can continue to play at this level, it will give Indiana a chance to pull off the upset in the series.
San Antonio Spurs: Matt Bonner
Matt Bonner did not have much of a role in the last series against the Golden State Warriors as coach Gregg Popovich elected to use a smaller lineup. However, that will not be the case against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Against a bigger and slower defense, Bonner becomes an offensive mismatch as a 6'10" player who can score from the outside. In Game 1, he scored 12 points on four made threes after totaling only 12 points during the entire previous round.
While the Spurs have a few players who can make three-point shots like Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, Bonner has been the team's most consistent threat when he is on the floor and led the team with a 44.2 percent mark from behind the arc.
During the postseason, he has made 12 of his 20 attempts from deep.
Memphis has a very tough defense to beat, but Bonner can become an equalizer for San Antonio if he continues to make his shots.
Memphis Grizzlies: Tony Allen
Everyone knows about Tony Allen's skills as a defensive player. For the second year in a row, the guard was selected All-Defensive first team as one of the best on-ball defenders in the entire league.
He will likely rotate duties throughout the series between Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and others, and he needs to make sure he shuts down whoever he matches up against.
The problem is that this will not be enough in this series. San Antonio showed in Game 1 that it is willing to leave Allen open while doubling-up on Zach Randolph down low. As a result, the big man was held to two points on 1-of-8 shooting.
Allen did make all three of his shots in the first game, but that is not enough. He needs to make the Spurs pay for leaving him open by being more aggressive with and without the ball.
Memphis is only 1-3 in the postseason in games where Allen fails to reach double-digit points. He needs to make sure he brings the same type of effort on the offensive end as he does on defense if the Grizzlies are to advance.
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