NBA Finals 2013: Players Who Must Step Up to Earn Their Team a Win
For the fifth time since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 format in the NBA Finals, we're going to have a Game 7 to decide the league champion on the final day of the 2012-13 season.
The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are knotted at three games a piece in the 2013 NBA Finals, as the two teams played one of the best playoff games we've ever seen in Miami's 103-100 win on Tuesday night.
Who wins Game 7?
Thursday now serves as the final proving ground—the last chance for these two franchises to add to an already impressive history of success over the past 15 seasons. After Thursday night, Miami and San Antonio will have combined for seven of the league's 15 championships since 1999.
While the team aspect of this game and basketball itself makes for champions, we can't ignore the fact that individual performances will make or break the outcome of this series.
Take a look at four players from these two teams who need to step up big to get the fourth win of this series and take home the Larry O'Brien trophy on Thursday night.
2013 NBA Finals Information
Who: San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat
What: Game 7 of 2013 NBA Finals
When: Thursday, June 20, at 9 p.m. ET
Where: American Airlines Arena; Miami, Fla.
Series Count: 3-3
San Antonio Spurs
SG Manu Ginobili
I personally attempted to get "WhereisManu" trending on Twitter last night, and the question should be extended to the realm of our analysis for Game 7, too.
Game 5's 24-point, 10-assist performance not withstanding, the Manu Ginobili that has been taking the court for the Spurs during the playoffs is not the same player who has been one of the most clutch playoff performers in the history of the league.
Ginobili is shooting a meager 39.2 percent from the floor, 29.7 percent from the three-point line and has even struggled from the free-throw line, where his 72.4 percent mark is more than 10 percentage points lower than his career average of 83.2.
So what's going on with Manu?
If his poor overall stats aren't enough to persuade you to agree that he's had a rough go of it, then maybe his stat line—nine points, eight turnovers, four rebounds and three assists—in Game 6 will do the trick.
If that also isn't enough, look back at the game tape from the first few games of this series. With the anomaly of Game 5 out of the picture, Ginobili looked uncomfortable handling the ball, making decisions in the offense and even playing defense.
Based on what we've seen this postseason, Ginobili will not have a starring role in Game 7. But, he's still one of the best we've ever seen in the playoffs. And being able to handle the backup point guard-type duties might be the difference in San Antonio title No. 5, or the first franchise Finals loss ever.
SG Danny Green
Danny Green already has NBA Finals hardware in the form of his new series three-point record, but the young star-in-the-making was a no-show when the Spurs needed him to provide something down the stretch in Game 6.
After making at least three three-pointers in each of the first five games of the series, Green finished 1-of-7 from the floor on Tuesday. His lone make was a corner three in the normal flow of the game.
Chris Bosh's prediction that Green wouldn't be open came true in a very real way on the final play of the game, too.
Head coach Gregg Popovich ran a play to flare Green to the opposite corner on the final play of the game, but Bosh recovered enough to block (or foul, depending on your assessment of the play) Green's desperation corner three and give Miami life for Game 7.
Simply put—San Antonio got nothing productive for all four quarters from any of their current list of guards who are in Popovich's rotation.
Green has taken on star-level publicity for his role in helping San Antonio win three of the four games necessary to win the title, but the Spurs need more than a 1-of-7 performance from him in the final game of the year to avoid an offseason of regret.
SF LeBron James
LeBron had a triple-double, the second-biggest three-pointer of the game (behind Ray Allen's) and willed his team to a big victory on a night his legacy was hanging in the balance.
Not enough to not put him on this list again for Game 7.
James is the driving force behind everything the Heat do on both ends. His efforts in this game are too many to count, but a few that stand out are his big three late in regulation, driving to the basket on three or four straight possessions in the fourth quarter and blocking Tim Duncan's shot (the biggest play of the game, in my opinion) to deny another easy SA score.
But that means nothing heading into Game 7.
Considered the world's best player, the Heat won't win this game if LBJ doesn't show up like he did at the end of Game 6.
Dwyane Wade is clearly teeter-tottering between greatness and futility, and his knee issues are obviously still there. Chris Bosh has been better on both ends, but he's still a wild card. Other than James, I would attest that only Ray Allen has the consistency to play second fiddle every night, and we know that isn't happening on a nightly basis.
Big-time players make big-time shots and plays in big moments. James again has a legacy to protect and a championship to win on Thursday night, and no matter the outcome, his legacy is going to slide heavily in one direction or the other.
PG Mario Chalmers
Chalmers has really been the X-factor for the Heat in the NBA Finals so far.
His 20 points, four rebounds and three three-point hits were huge for the Heat on Tuesday, as Wade stayed on the bench for most of the fourth quarter and deferred to the quartet of Chalmers, Mike Miller, James and Allen.
Which player will have the best Game 7?
With James attacking the basket, it creates shooting windows for guys like Chalmers. When he does have the ball and runs the Miami offense, Chalmers is solid, too, including an excellent pick-and-roll pass to James in the fourth quarter for an easy dunk.
When the Heat win, there's a good chance Chalmers took on a large role in the offense, had an impact on defense and got a chance to stay on the court late to make the big shot.
In losses, though, Chalmers has been non-existent.
For Miami to survive San Antonio and erase this one-game winning streak trend we've seen through the first six games of the NBA Finals, Chalmers needs to have another stellar game from the floor and on defense for Miami to overcome the San Antonio guards.
If he can't, it will force James to press more, Wade to do the same and allow Bosh more free reign with the ball in the offense (never a good thing when James should be facilitating alongside Chalmers and Wade).
There's a lot of X-factors when it comes to a Game 7, and it's hard to predict which single player will have the biggest impact (positive or negative) on the game. These four guys are a good bet to be involved in some way, so pay close attention to their performances on Thursday night.
Follow Bleacher Report FC Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.
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