The 2013 NBA Finals are less than 24 hours away, with the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs preparing for a clash for the ages. With the potential for both squads to enter the ranks of the legendary, we've thus set our eyes on the brightest of stars in this series.
While the active legends deserve our praise, this series (and for starters, Game 1) will be decided by another group—the unsung heroes.
Certain players have made their impact throughout the course of the postseason but are not necessarily the star scorers who command respect. Others have gone under the radar altogether, but their contributions are needed.
The question is, who are they, and what must they do to ensure a victory in Game 1?
Udonis Haslem, Miami Heat
If Chris Bosh thought Roy Hibbert was a difficult assignment, wait until he draws Tim Duncan.
To suggest that Bosh will put forth as putrid an effort as he did in the Eastern Conference Finals would be nothing short of naive. With that being said, Duncan is a four-time NBA champion and three-time NBA Finals MVP.
If anyone knows how to dominate the NBA Finals, it's Duncan—that's exactly why Udonis Haslem is Miami's ultimate X-factor.
Haslem was huge for the Heat during the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, leading Miami to victories in Games 3 and 5. In Game 3, he tallied 17 points and seven rebounds on 8-of-9 shooting, following that performance with 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting in Game 5.
If the Heat are to defeat the Spurs, they'll need Haslem to get that mid-range J working against Tiago Splitter.
If Haslem can space the floor, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will have an easier time attacking the basket. More importantly, it will lessen the burden on Chris Bosh, whose post skills have been diminished during the postseason and he's thus been transformed into a stretch 4.
Going up against Duncan, Bosh will see his toughest task yet—that means Haslem must step up when he's called upon.
Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs are a team with an abundance of Hall of Fame personnel. From head coach Gregg Popovich to the Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the Spurs are one of the most decorated teams in NBA history.
The question is, who will step up when they're needed?
It all starts at shooting guard, where Danny Green has emerged as one of the premier perimeter defenders. Such was on full display when he absolutely dominated Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry.
The Spurs will need a repeat performance when he encounters the slashing ways of Dwyane Wade.
Wade has been battling an injury that can be described in the gruesome manner of stating that he must re-adjust his knee cap. For that reason, Green can diversify his defense, either playing up on him and forcing attacks off of the bounce or sagging off to force jumpers.
Right now, Wade isn't scoring efficiently in either manner—Green simply cannot allow Wade's inefficiency to create anything less than a world-class effort defensively.
The Miami Heat are a team praised for their ability to shoot the three-ball, as every perimeter reserve is proficient in that regard. If you don't believe that to be true, note that Mike Miller, Rashard Lewis, Shane Battier and some guy named Ray Allen all shot 38.9 percent or better from beyond the arc.
Norris Cole hit 35.7 percent and James Jones is a career 39.9 percent shooter from distance—even still, we can't help but wonder if they'll be able to match the Spurs.
The Heat played terrible basketball by their own standards during the Eastern Conference Finals but still managed to win in seven games. A major reason for their success was LeBron James, but we'd be remiss to ignore the fact that the Indiana Pacers are a very poor offensive team.
The Spurs, meanwhile, are as proficient with the three as any in the league—dry spells could be Miami's ultimate undoing.
During the Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat had four games with five three-point field goals or less. It's no coincidence that Miami lost two of those games, as LeBron's elite performances were met by minimal support from his fellow stars and, most importantly, his shooters.
That must change if Miami is to survive the Spurs.
In that same breath, San Antonio cannot let up with the three-ball, as they are only as good as their weakest link. Fortunately for San Antonio, coach Gregg Popovich has no qualms about pulling a player if they've gone cold.
With nine active players shooting better than 35.0 percent from beyond the arc, they certainly have the personnel to get the job done.
If the Spurs are able to pace their way through Game 1 using a low-high attack that results in open threes, they will take the opening contest of this series. If the Heat are able to match their shooting and provide an offensive spark, however, it will come down to a clash of the Big Threes.
It's all about which unsung heroes can support their stars the best.