Say what you want about each team's Big Three, but the 2013 NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat will be decided by the surrounding role players who make huge impacts on the game in various ways.
Sure, the Heat need to figure out Dwyane Wade's and Chris Bosh's struggles and work out how they're going to be able to help LeBron James and make sure it's not a one-man show. But it goes way deeper than that for the defending NBA champions, who have had key role players struggle throughout this playoff run, which nearly led to their demise against the Indiana Pacers.
While San Antonio will be led by Tony Parker, who's playing at a sensational level, it goes way deeper than him, Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili.
Let's take a look at the role players who will have a big series in the NBA Finals and make a significant impact on which team wins it all.
Chris Andersen, PF, Miami Heat
Chris Andersen spent nearly the first half of the 2012-13 season as an unemployed free agent before agreeing to a 10-day contract with Miami on Jan. 20, per NBA.com. It wasn't until then that Birdman made NBA teams realize what they were overlooking when they refused to have interest in him.
The big-bodied, bruising forward has the skill set that is tailor-made for the role he has on the Heat. This star-studded team often lacks size and strength in the frontcourt, and he brings those two traits first and foremost.
Andersen has been a force defensively, but that doesn't mean he hasn't found a historic scoring touch. He was on fire in the playoffs before missing two shots in Game 1 against the Spurs, per ESPN Stats & Info—and still finished 3-for-5 with seven points:
Often forgotten offensively throughout parts of his career, Andersen has found lanes all throughout the paint when James and Wade have been able to penetrate and force opposing big men in the air. That's when Birdman is at his best and can sneak past them and "fly" around his opponents.
All bad puns aside, the 10-year veteran is very efficient when he's out on the court, helping Miami do things they can't normally do well like impacting shots in the trenches and putting a physical defender on the opposing big man. Andersen's ability to frustrate Tim Duncan in this series will go a long way to decide who wins the ring.
Ray Allen, SG, Miami Heat
It's important to remember that one game is a small sample size, but Miami sharpshooter Ray Allen seemed to put his playoff slump in the rear-view mirror as he finished with 13 points on 3-of-4 three-point shooting in Game 1.
Allen also buried three clutch free throws late in the game, when the Heat were trying to claw back after giving up the lead. His usually perfect free-throw shooting has been a question in these playoffs, so performing in the clutch was a great indicator for the all-time great.
Allen's late emergence in these playoffs has caught the eye of the sports world, including but not limited to ESPN Around the Horn panelist Bomani Jones:
Nobody can doubt Ray Allen's immense talent, but he's simply been off-and-on for the Heat as of late. He excelled with many open looks earlier in the regular season, but a combination of missing open looks and increased defensive pressure has put Allen in a funk.
However, it was a huge sign that he got off to a great start in Game 1. The best shooters of all time tend to have short memory and can get streaky on a moment's notice. We've come to expect such a thing in Allen's day.
Gary Neal, G, San Antonio Spurs
After playing Corey Joseph just two minutes in Game 1 to Neal's 21:34, there's no secret as to who Tony Parker's main helper will be in the backcourt in distributing the ball and running the offense.
Parker wasn't asked to put up gaudy offensive numbers in Game 1, though he finished with a solid 21 points. Much of that was due to Neal, who came in and scored seven crucial points while hitting big shots.
The Spurs' star point guard needs all of the help he can get, and it's not usually going to come from Manu Ginobili, who doesn't have solid speed. Neal gives their backcourt that extra burst when Parker isn't on the court, and it's crucial to the Spurs generating points with their bench unit.
Plus, Neal's biggest impact on the game comes against the Heat's bench, which is the most likely time to see LeBron off the floor. If he can capitalize and help his team go on short spurts with King James out of the game, it'll go a long way to building a lead throughout the rest of the series.
Boris Diaw, PF, San Antonio Spurs
Spurs big man Boris Diaw has been sparsely used at times this season and in the playoffs, but Gregg Popovich knows his athletic bruiser is available whenever he needs him.
And against the Heat, it works out quite well for Diaw to get some considerable playing time.
Other than Kawhi Leonard, who far-and-away deserves the distinction as the best player to guard LeBron James, Diaw is their best bet at stopping The King from having his way. His 6'8", 235-pound frame is just about as close to James' size as the Spurs can find, and he plays bigger than his size with a ton of mental toughness and a high basketball IQ.
Diaw has earned playing time in this series by sticking around and being a real grind-it-out player, which San Antonio needs plenty of in order to have a chance against the Heat.
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