Spurs vs Heat: Role Players Who Will Be Biggest X-Factors

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJune 3, 2013

Jan. 17, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (far left) is pressured by San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the first half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2013 NBA Finals, it's time to focus on the guys who are really going to decide the series.

Sure you've got guys like LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. They're all big names and will have a big impact on how the NBA title is decided.

It's the role players, though, who can often play the biggest parts. Last year, all of the talk was about James and Kevin Durant—that was until Mike Miller stole the show when he hit seven three-pointers in Game 5.

Here are two players on each team who will be key contributors in the 2013 finals.


Kawhi Leonard

It may be a stretch to consider Kawhi Leonard a role player. But when a series includes a plethora of star players, Leonard is bound to get overlooked.

He's third on the Spurs in playoff scoring, averaging 13.0. He's also bringing down 8.0 boards a game.

Leonard may actually be the most important player for San Antonio in the finals. There isn't a better perimeter defender on the Spurs than the 6'7" forward. He'll likely be lining up against and trying to stop James. It's going to be fun watching this individual matchup alone. The rest of the series will just be a bonus.

James really had to carry the Heat through the Eastern Conference Finals. By shackling him, Leonard will ratchet the pressure on Bosh and Wade. If those two repeat their performances against the Pacers, Miami is doomed.


Tiago Splitter

Watching Tiago Splitter's improvement over the past couple of years has been a joy to watch. When the top-seeded Spurs were getting bounced in the first round by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2011, Splitter was a complete non-factor.

Now he and Duncan are combining to form a deadly post duo.

Splitter's only averaging 6.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 0.92 blocks a game, but his importance can't be overstated. Many thought the Spurs would have a hard time countering Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in the post, but Splitter and Duncan were more than up to the task.

It was Splitter, though, who left the biggest impression. He was so key with the way he rolled over in help defense. Duncan had a fantastic season defensively, so it was clear he'd be ready for the Grizzlies. Few could have seen what kind of impact Splitter would have.


Norris Cole

After playing well against the Chicago Bulls in the second round, Norris Cole disappeared a bit in the Eastern Conference Finals. He averaged 11.5 points a game on 69.0 percent shooting against Chicago, but those totals dropped to 5.0 and 43.7 against the Pacers.

More importantly, Cole wasn't the dead-eye shooter fans had seen previously. It was a trend the rest of the Heat largely followed, as they struggled to hit their shots on the perimeter.

In order to get past the Spurs, Miami is going to need three-point shooters like Cole and Ray Allen to space the floor. When those guys are knocking down shots, San Antonio will have to get out after them, leaving the lane a little more open for James and Wade to get an easier path to the basket.


Chris Andersen

Chris Andersen is almost vital to the Heat by default. When he was suspended in Game 6, the Heat were left to go with Joel Anthony in the post.

Coming in to the game, Miami fans were petrified at the thought of the seldom-used big man playing more than five minutes, and he justified their fears. It was a disaster. Anthony only scored two points and let Roy Hibbert get too many easy points in the post.

Although, give credit where credit is due when it comes to the Birdman. Andersen has been very good since signing with the Heat in the middle of the season. He's raised his game to another level against the Pacers. Andersen only missed two of his 18 field goals for the entire series.

He wasn't great on the defensive end, but he was as good as Miami needed. Andersen will need to continue playing that well in order for the Heat to come out victorious.