Game 3 of the 2013 NBA Finals is mere hours from tipping off, as the San Antonio Spurs look to steal the momentum back from the Miami Heat.
After a shocking win in Game 1, the Spurs were stopped dead in their tracks in Game 2—with LeBron James’ block-heard-round-the-world on Tiago Splitter serving as a metaphor for the contest.
Now that everything is tied up, this series has become a best-of-five, with three critical games in a row set to be played in San Antonio.
Let’s take a look at who must step up and make a difference if their side is going to be the winning one on Tuesday night.
Udonis Haslem Must Continue to Dominate Tim Duncan
The Big Fundamental didn’t shrink from the spotlight in Game 2, but he couldn’t buy a bucket and severely hurt his team with his poor shot selection and inability to beat the Heat defense.
Overall, Duncan went 3-of-13 from the field, scoring just nine points to go along with his 11 boards and single assist. Udonis Haslem was primarily tasked with locking down the future Hall of Famer and has done an admirable job in that respect.
The Miami power forward limited his counterpart to just 1-of-8 shooting while he was on the court in Game 2, and Duncan is now just 3-of-16 through the first two games when Haslem is on the floor.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra showed wonderful strategy in limiting Duncan to his first single-digits Finals outing in 24 attempts—a stretch that has culminated in four championships.
As long as the low-post defenders continue to make Duncan work extremely hard and take him out of his comfort zone, the Spurs are going to have a tough time finding success.
Expect Haslem to have a big part in the effort, as he’s proven the most effective in stopping TD during the initial two games of the series.
LeBron James May Need to Elevate His Game
The league’s reigning MVP averaged 26.8 points per game during the regular season, but has only scored 35 total in the Finals.
He had 18 in Game 1, in which his triple-double wasn’t enough to push his team past the challengers, but his 17 in Game 2 was more than adequate in a blowout victory.
Don’t be surprised if that changes soon, as the coach Gregg Popovich could take a page from the Indiana Pacers'—the club that pushed the defending champs to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals—playbook and force James’ teammates to beat his squad.
While Bosh and Wade are looking quite a bit better and more healthy than they did for much of the ECF, San Antonio may have to resort to the strategy if they run out of options.
If the Western Conference champs resorts to this, James will need to step up and deliver a high-volume, borderline-selfish shooting performance in order to will his team to victory.
Tony Parker Has to Control the Rock
The Spurs offense stalled in Game 2 for a number of reasons, but Tony Parker deserves a large amount of the blame.
His five turnovers were much more damaging than the good his five assists brought, and the disruption of the team’s offense resulted in 16 total turnovers that resulted in 19 points for the Heat.
Which player is most important to San Antonio's success?
Given that the Spurs lost by 19 points, it’s going to require a performance close to perfect in order for this club to surpass Miami, especially now that the Heat have established a foothold and gained momentum in the series.
TP was the hero in Game 1 for his astonishing dagger with time running out and the shot-clock hitting zero, but he’ll be the goat in this series if he doesn’t improve his decision making and take care of the ball.
His teammates will need to help by getting into position, setting strong screens and knocking down open shots, but the onus to turn this team’s offense around immediately squarely falls on Parker’s shoulders.