In the NBA playoffs, more often than not, the heroes come from unexpected places.
The 2014 postseason has been no exception. James Jones was the surprising prime mover of the Miami Heat's Game 1 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats. The Dallas Mavericks' DeJuan Blair notched a double-double in only 16 minutes on a perfect 5-of-5 mark from the field in a Game 4 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Troy Daniels did this.
Grantland's Zach Lowe touched on this phenomenon indirectly this week, writing that—while the analytics movement has, to an extent, marginalized midlevel veteran performers—such players are often essential components of playoff victories:
Playoff basketball exposes a player's warts. The extra 20 percent of production a midlevel guy might bring compared to a minimum-salary player can be the difference between a guy who can be on the court in the postseason and a guy who can't…In that hothouse atmosphere, it becomes much harder to hide one player's glaring weakness, and that is where the "pretty good" veterans renew their value — where the extra 20 percent shows up.
The Heat, more so than most, have reaped the benefit of this extra 20 percent. During each of the last two NBA Finals clinchers, and the rounds that preceded them, Miami has gotten an enormous contribution from an unlikely source; first from Mike Miller—who scorched the Oklahoma City Thunder for 23 points on 7-of-8 three-point shooting in Game 5 of the 2012 finals—then from Shane Battier last season.
After James Jones scored 12 points in Miami's Game 1 win over the Bobcats, LeBron James told reporters, "I think J.J. is going to play a big part of our success—of how far we go." He may as well have been talking about any fringe member of the Heat rotation.
If Miami is going to win a third consecutive title this spring, it'll likely again—at several consequential forks in the road—require a boost from a contributor outside of the (rightly) heralded LeBron/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh triune.
One logical candidate to rise to the occasion is Mario Chalmers.
The sixth-year point guard has already built a strong postseason resume. His career playoff scoring average and field-goal percentage exceed what he's offered in the regular season, and he has two ace finals performances under his belt to boot. In 2012, Chalmers dropped 25 on OKC in the penultimate Game 4, then scored 20 points on 11 shots in the Heat's miracle Game 6 victory over San Antonio last season.
He's off to a fast start in 2014, too. In the sweep over the Bobcats, the guard shot 45.5 percent from three-point land, turned the ball over only twice and posted a win shares per 48 minutes of .146.
Chris Andersen seems an even better bet to move the needle for the Heat.
The Birdman finished second in the NBA in true shooting percentage with an insanely efficient 68.3 percent mark. (Granted, the fact that he takes about 80 percent of his shots from within three feet of the basket explains away a lot of this. That said, if those quality looks were so easy to get, everyone would get them.) By measure of win shares per 48 minutes, Andersen finished second on the Heat and, among players who logged more than 1,000 minutes, ninth in the NBA.
And Andersen has, like Chalmers, been even better in the playoffs.
In the 2013 postseason, his first with Miami, the colorfully appointed big man led the Association in true shooting percentage—with an otherworldly, no-that's-not-a-typo 81.5 percent—effective field-goal percentage and win shares per 48 minutes. Andersen posted a field-goal percentage of 72.7 in the finals against San Antonio. It was his worst shooting round of those playoffs.
This doesn't seem to be a fluke, either. In his only other extended postseason run, in 2009 with the Denver Nuggets, the Birdman provided a 66.1 true shooting percentage along with a terrific win shares per 48 minutes figure of .203. A pretty clear trend is emerging: Andersen has been dominant in the postseason before—and, no, "dominant" doesn't feel too hyperbolic here—and seems likely to continue to produce at that lofty level.
Ray Allen and Battier are two more ballyhooed veterans who—despite down years in 2013-14—are likewise strong candidates to make a difference this spring. Both guys are three-point shooters who didn't shoot the three well the last six months but have track records of recent postseason success and a knack for bouncing back from adversity. Battier's travails and ultimate triumph of a year ago are particularly instructive here.
Entering the 2013 finals, the veteran shot 22.7 percent, 28.6 percent and 12.5 percent from the floor in the first three rounds of the playoffs, respectively. He looked done.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra cut his playing time to the bone—Battier logged fewer than 10 minutes in seven consecutive games in the conference finals and the championship round—and the journalism-hive-mind penned 1,000 obituaries to a fine career. We poured one out for old Battier.
Then came Game 7. In the final game of one of the finest finals in memory, the veteran remarkably returned to form—hitting six three-point shots in eight attempts and scoring 18 points in the Miami victory. He played 29 minutes, the most run he'd gotten in nearly a month.
No one saw Battier's Game 7 coming, and the emergence of the next Heat hero might be similarly startling. Greg Oden has only entered a game once since March 28, but mightn't the veteran have another comeback in him? Likewise, Michael Beasley wasn't activated in the Charlotte series, but those who've counted him out before have been made to look foolish. Norris Cole, James Jones and Rashard Lewis have each had games in 2013-14 where they—not LeBron or Wade or Bosh—made plays that spurred Miami to victory.
If Miami hopes to win a third title in as many seasons, it'll need a few of these no-names and has-beens to step up. The NBA might be a star-driven league, after all, but in the playoffs, the little guys can still make a big difference.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via Basketball-Reference and are current through Sunday, May 4.