The spotlight can do strange things to basketball players, especially the one provided by the 2013 NBA Finals. Somehow, it finds a way to make even those behemoths who tower over regular-sized people shrink until they've become just shadows of themselves.
Unfortunately, for every man who rises to the occasion, there's usually one who wilts under the pressure, succumbing to the ridiculously high expectations from the millions watching him go about his business.
For that reason, the NBA Finals have been strange so far.
We've seen the San Antonio Spurs win Game 1 and reaffirm that they were the clear favorites to take home the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Then, the Miami Heat went on a devastating run near the end of Game 2 and swung the odds in their favor before getting absolutely mauled in Game 3.
This see-saw has produced a number of standouts, but it's also pushed forth a handful of stars who have shrunk in the spotlight.
A marquee moment—sad to say for three of these stars—isn't enough to save them from this list. Their regular-season performances and postseason prowess have convinced us that they should be doing more and doing it on a more consistent basis.
Given the number of jumpers Chris Bosh has clanged off the iron, the San Antonio Spurs, if they emerge victorious, should seriously consider bringing him out after the series is over and letting him shake Bill Russell's hand before being awarded Finals MVP.
San Antonio's game plan has been forcing Bosh into shooting jumpers, and it's paid off repeatedly. The big man's shot has completely deserted him, and lofting up ill-fated three-point attempts isn't going to help him get in a rhythm.
Thus far, the former Toronto Raptor is averaging 12.3 points per game on 44.4 percent shooting from the field. He has yet to find the bottom of the net even once when he lets fly from beyond the three-point arc, and he's attempted triples five times over the course of three games.
His free-throw shooting has suffered a similar fate. After getting to the stripe 4.1 times per game during the regular season and converting the freebies at a 79.8 percent clip, Bosh is hitting just 62.5 percent of his 2.7 attempts per contest during the finals.
None of these shooting numbers are going to cut it, especially because San Antonio is forcing Bosh to win the game for Miami. The Spurs are swarming the paint whenever LeBron touches the ball, and his robotic basketball mind leaves no other option but passing it out to the open jump-shooter.
Quite often, that's been Bosh.
If the Heat are going to win back-to-back championships, the power forward-turned-center must start converting his open looks. He'll keep getting them whether he does so or not, after all.
Turning Bosh into a jump-shooter has also moved him further from the basket and rendered his rebounding skills a non-factor. Miami, already a small team, has become even smaller.
On defense, Bosh has been unable to contain Tim Duncan, and he's missed a number of box-outs in each game. Although he recorded double-digit boards in both Game 2 and Game 3, 10 simply isn't enough. San Antonio has put out the Heat on the offensive glass, and Bosh has to start bodying up when shots are attempted.
If the Spurs continue to get so many second-chance points, this series is as good as over.
The Argentine shooting guard may have gotten up and thrown down during Game 3, but that was his one outstanding moment during a series in which he's been a relative non-factor.
That dunk prompted the same reaction from just about everyone watching the game: "Wait. Ginobili can still do that?! And...he's doing something in the finals besides missing shots?"
Perhaps Ginobili is struggling to adjust to his lack of playing time, but his shot just refuses to fall against the Miami Heat. His best shooting performance thus far was a 3-of-7 outing in Game 3, and he's knocked down only 37.5 percent of his looks from the field.
Additionally, Ginobili hasn't been able to hit three-pointers with any semblance of consistency. He even managed to go 0-of-4 during the Spurs' record-setting performance from downtown. As a whole, San Antonio shot 16-of-32 from three-point range in the 113-77 blowout, but Ginobili didn't help the percentage much at all.
Even the 2-guard's passing skills have disappeared during the finals.
Sure, he had six assists in Game 3, but it's easier to rack up the dimes when your teammates just refuse to miss shots. And even with that outing, Ginobili is averaging only 3.3 assists per game against the Heat—well below the numbers he put up during the regular season and in each of the other playoff series.
He's had a couple of flashy plays during the three-game stretch, but let's not make the mistake of confusing flashiness for consistent production.
Through three games, LeBron James is averaging 16.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.0 blocks, 1.7 steals, only 2.0 turnovers and 0.3 plays that will haunt Tiago Splitter's dreams per game. He's shooting 38.9 percent from the field, 23.1 percent from downtown and 83.3 percent from the charity stripe.
Those numbers would make most players jump with joy, but they're nowhere near the standards that LeBron has set for himself.
To his credit, the best player in the world has displayed great decision-making throughout this series. He's passing the ball to the open man and hitting him right in the hands; it's not his fault his teammates are often struggling to put the ball in the basket. James can't turn off the portion of his brain devoted to making the analytically proper choices on the court.
However, that's made him into a passive player, and the Heat need him to start attacking. The Spurs are playing LeBron like it's 2007, and it's making him look like it's 2011. They're going under every screen and seem to be pretending that he's Rajon Rondo, at least based on the cushion they're giving him when he has the ball.
There's one magic solution to this type of defense: making jumpers.
LeBron has been extremely hesitant to pull the trigger, even when it's easy for him to get the shots off. Although he's developed into a fantastic jump-shooter, he doesn't seem to want to assert that facet of his game. But he needs to if Miami wants to climb back into this series.
The league MVP has still played great basketball. He's keeping Miami alive on the boards, making perfect passes with frightening frequency and occasionally—not always—playing lock-down defense. He's just not playing MVP basketball, because his scoring has all but disappeared.
Most thought he was done shrinking in the NBA Finals spotlight after his 2012 outings. But, apparently, that's not the case. It's time to go back to those Cleveland days one more time, even if San Antonio is doing everything possible to prevent that from happening.
Tony Parker's dagger in Game 1 will live on forever. There's no denying that.
But since making that ridiculous bank shot as the shot clock expired, Parker has disappeared.
In Game 2, he recorded 13 points and five assists, but he shot only 5-of-14 from the field and coughed the ball over to the Heat on five separate occasions. Then, in Game 3, he recorded six points and eight assists before tweaking his hamstring during the blowout. He played 27 minutes, though, so six points is still a remarkably low total.
Parker has still been a positive player for San Antonio. He's drawn a lot of defensive attention, and his skills have allowed the entire Spurs system to avoid sputtering to a stop. However, he hasn't asserted himself as a dominant individual.
This was supposed to be the showcase series for Parker, the set of games that allowed him to firmly wrest the "best point guard" title away from the clutches of Chris Paul. Even though he has a 2-1 lead in the series and CP3 is sitting at home, that hasn't happened.
Through three games, the French floor general is averaging 13.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.7 steals and 2.3 turnovers per game on 43.2 percent shooting from the field. It's been enough to get the job done for San Antonio, but that's not the level of individual greatness we're accustomed to seeing Parker display.
Even the players who have been to this stage and won many times can still shrink in the harsh light of the NBA Finals.
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