NBA Finals 2013: Players Who Must Step Up in Championship Series
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
If Game 1 is any indicator of how the 2013 NBA Finals will play out, we're in for a great series between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs.
Each team is well-equipped to take home the Larry O'Brien Trophy, but there's only one for the taking. While LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker will obviously have plenty to say over who wins it all, the role players will make the small differences that go a long way.
Both teams played great basketball to kick off the series, but the Spurs stole a road victory with stout fourth-quarter defense and Parker's circus shot to seal the deal.
Now that these squads have finally played each other with their actual starters, let's look at the players who could make or break the series for their respective teams.
Poor Chris Bosh. Now that not even Skip Bayless could deprive LeBron James of his rightful throne as the NBA's king, the other guy who helped formed the Big Three is everyone's whipping boy.
Most of the Bosh backlash has been undeserved, as he shot a career-high 53.5 percent this season despite scoring a career-low 16.6 points per game. A player accepting his role as the third-wheel is no reason to hate a veritable All-Star.
This season, however, Bosh has played, well, like a Bosh. (Sorry Chris, but it is clever.) He averaged just 10.6 points per game against the Indiana Pacers, being relegated to a three-point shooter with Roy Hibbert manning the paint.
Moving on to San Antonio, it seemed like Bosh would shift back into making his mark on mid-range jumpers coming off screens. Instead, he stayed on the wing, missing all four long-range attempts.
ESPN Stats & Info posted a chart on Twitter that shows how much Bosh has abandoned the paint in favor of three-pointers this postseason.
Miami needs more from Bosh going forward, whether it's re-establishing his offense inside or actually converting his outside jumpers.
Holding the best player on the planet to 18 points is stepping it up, which is why I feel bad for asking Kawhi Leonard to keep doing it.
That's a fool's errand, as that point total represents James' lowest scoring output of the playoffs. Leonard played exceptional defense on James, who made the right basketball play only to frequently watch his teammates miss.
After holding James to six points when guarding him, Leonard can't do much better than that. If he continues that lock-down effort, he deserves the MVP and a parade dedicated solely to his fine work. So sorry for getting greedy, but how about a little offense?
Perhaps exhausted from working against James on the other side, Leonard whiffed on all four of his three-point attempts. He's no Ray Allen from behind the line, but all of these were great looks orchestrated by flawless ball movement from San Antonio's poetic offense.
When sharing the court with Parker and Duncan, it's imperative for the ancillary pieces to hit their open shots. Danny Green did his part in Game 1, and the Spurs would love to see Leonard do the same going forward.
You know who is like Ray Allen from behind the arc? Ray Allen.
At least he was on Thursday night, nailing a trio of threes in a losing effort. Considering he was shooting 36.5 percent from downtown in the postseason before Game 1, seeing Allen smoothly fire balls through the net is a sight the Heat can get used to seeing.
Now that they are no longer facing the team with the lowest opposing three-point percentage, the open looks will exist for Allen and Co., especially if Wade is successfully driving with force.
Remember the panic that ensued around the league from all non-Miami fans when Allen left the Boston Celtics to join forces with Miami? One of the greatest shooters ever to play was going to a team that will allow him to camp out in the corner and shoot like it's his job, probably because it is his job.
Last year, Shane Battier and Mike Miller caught fire for Miami at the perfect time, leading them to a relatively easy Finals victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Both of those veterans are still hanging around South Beach, but Allen could be the guy that catches the hot hand this time.
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