Perhaps the NBA Finals won't come down to which team has the better Big Three after all.
Superstars were supposed to determine whether it was the Miami Heat or San Antonio Spurs who were crowned league champions. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh vs. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, that was the matchup to watch.
Then Games 1 and 2 came to pass, and a startling trend was revealed. The supporting cast apparently held more power than we initially thought.
Those outside of San Antonio's Big Three tallied 38 points in a Game 1 victory over Miami. Then it was South Beach's turn.
Players on the outskirts of the Heat's triumvirate combined for 64 points, accounting for more than 62 percent of the team's total offense in a 103-84 thrashing of the Spurs in Game 2.
Which begs the question: What's next?
San Antonio Spurs
For the Spurs, it absolutely comes down to Parker, Duncan and Ginobili. There are no exceptions.
Game 1 saw San Antonio's Big Three put up 54 points between them, and the Spurs won. Just barely, but they still won.
In Game 2, Parker, Duncan and Ginobili totaled 27 points, exactly half that. And the Spurs lost. Badly. Danny Green went for 17 points, Gary Neal pitched in 10 and members outside of the Big Three accounted for nearly 68 percent of the team's offense (57 points), but that wasn't enough.
Nor will it ever be.
Which isn't so much a knock on the Spurs bench as it is a testament to the Big Three's importance. Their reserves finished second in the league in points per game (41.4) during the regular season and two out of the three starters not named Duncan or Parker averaged in double figures.
The Spurs' supporting cast are a deep and talented bunch. That gives them an edge on most nights, the games when the Big Three are doing their jobs. On the others they'll fall short, no matter how well everyone else fares.
San Antonio's supporting cast kept the Spurs in the game until late in the third quarter. They were up 62-61 with 3:50 remaining in the third period before the Heat embarked on a debilitating 33-5 run.
During that stretch, the Spurs shot 20 percent from the field as a team. The ageless trio specifically tallied two points on 1-of-4 shooting from the floor.
For the Spurs to win, that can't happen. Though their supporting cast notched 38 points in Game 1, it still took a pair of 20-plus performances from Duncan and Parker to seal the deal. Green, Kawhi Leonard and Taigo Splitter all made significant contributions (29 points combined), but the Spurs rode Parker to the end.
That's how the Spurs can and will attempt to depose the Heat. They'll rely on their three most important players to make the difference on both ends of the floor. When those three cannot gain the tactical advantage, they will lose.
Just like they did in Game 2.
It's different in South Beach.
Miami didn't finish with the NBA's best record by leaning heavily upon its reserves. James, Bosh and Wade led the way during the regular season.
The Heat didn't reach the Finals by entrusting the outcome of games to their role players. Bosh and Wade all but disappeared for a large portion of the playoffs, and they needed an unlikely consort of heroes to emerge. Even then, it was James who persevered through a lack of support, leading the Heat back to the Finals for a third straight season.
Now it's different.
Against the Spurs, those not-named LeBron James need to step up more than ever. The Heat are facing their toughest opponent of these playoffs. With Bosh and Wade still floundering somewhere between mediocrity and completely awful, James (contrary to what I once forecasted) can't do it alone. He tried to in Game 1 and they lost.
In Game 1, Miami's Big Three was outplayed by San Antonio's. Rather, Bosh and Wade's struggles were exploited.
James notched a triple-doulbe (probably should've shot more) while his two-most vital partners combined for 30 points on 13-of-31 shooting. The Heat ultimately lost, but they were kept in the game thanks to (James obviously) the three-point stylings of Ray Allen (13 points), bursts of defense and explosion from Chris "Birdman" Andersen and a very Shane Battier-esque performance from Mike Miller.
Game 2 had the makings of something similar. Bosh was 6-of-10 from the floor for 12 points. Between he and Wade they pieced together 22 total on 11-of-23 shooting. Far from horrible, but far from enough.
James himself didn't even play particularly well on offense. He shot 7-of-17 from the field for 17 points, resorting to making plays for his teammates (seven assists). His defense was impeccable (three blocks and three steals). We didn't even need to see him de-posterizing Tiago Splitter to see that.
Alone, that wouldn't have been enough. He needed help. And he got it. Mario Chalmers went for 19 points, Allen had 13 and Andersen and Miller pitched in nine apiece as well.
When the Heat went on that demonstrative 33-5 run, it wasn't Bosh or Wade who showed up. They combined for under two-and-a-half minutes of playing time during it. Neither of them even attempted a shot.
Chalmers on the other hand had eight. Allen and Miller had six. James finally caught fire scoring 11 on 5-of-5 shooting.
They were the difference. Not Bosh or Wade. Them.
For the Heat to win, that's just how it's going to have to be.
San Antonio has created no delusions about what it will take to emerge victorious.
Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are still the Spurs' primary lifelines. Their off nights culminate in losses (Game 2).
All of them don't need to have breath-taking games to win. That's what their supporting cast is for. Those same players aren't able to replace the production of all three, though. Superstars (plural) need to take control of the game for the Spurs to compete for a full 48 minutes.
The Heat are facing a different challenge.
James is going to play well. Prolific displays—understated or not—have become a given. Being able to depend on Bosh and Wade has not.
Both are averaging career-playoff lows in points per game. Statistical sacrifices are always made on superteams for the sake of winning. Bathing in obscurity is not a part of such sacrifices.
Down two luxuries that are really necessities, others have had to assume more responsibilities. Chalmers, Andersen, Allen and even Miller have never been more important to the Heat's championship cause than they are now.
Barring the sudden reemergences of Bosh and Wade, that's how it needs to be. Counting on either of the two to make those much-needed returns is futile. Any resurgence at this point becomes unforeseen, thereby resting the Heat's title hopes on James and the supporting cast's ability to successfully combat San Antonio's superstars.