With a pair of tightly contested contests in the rearview mirror, the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have lived up to pre-series expectations thus far. Considering how evenly matched these two teams appear, there is little reason to suggest that the 2014 NBA Finals will be anything but a historic series.
From LeBron James' offensive excellence to the Spurs' inconsistent execution, there have been several noticeable trends over the first two games that could swing the outcome. As the Finals shift to Miami, a few players will serve as "hinge" candidates, as their performances could swing the series.
For a look at which players on each team fit that criteria as well as a full TV viewing guide for Game 3, check out the information and analysis below.
What: NBA Finals, Game 3
Where: AmericanAirlines Arena (Miami)
When: Sunday, June 8, 9 p.m. ET
Despite his reputation as one of the league's premier shooting guards, Wade has actually been a net-minus against San Antonio thus far. Wade possesses a minus-5.0 rating while on the floor, indicating how the Heat have been better off without their second banana.
Last season, the Spurs limited Miami's offense by forcing mid-range jumpers from Wade and James, nullifying both their ability to drive into the paint and kick out to open three-point shooters. Though James has since adjusted to combat that style, Wade has not. Consequently, the Heat have played more lineups with Ray Allen to goose their offensive spacing.
That was beautiful basketball. San Antonio, 60-56. Looks like more Allen, less Wade for a while for Miami.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) June 9, 2014
Wade is obviously a far greater difference-maker than Allen, even on the back nine of his career. Though Wade's freelancing defense is a permanent flaw, he can still positively impact this series by creating more transition opportunities and taking shots other than forced drives into the teeth of the defense.
Parker has dealt with numerous ailments throughout this season, and Game 2's rib injury only added to the list of maladies. It's fortunate that Parker was able to return to the game, because the former Finals MVP has arguably been the Spurs' best player thus far this series.
Parker is shooting 53.3 percent from the field and has actually made four three-pointers after hitting just 25 in 68 regular-season games. With the smaller Heat fronting the Spurs' frontcourt of Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, Parker's ability to drive past Mario Chalmers at will has kept the San Antonio offense alive.
If you’re going to front the post, Tony Parker is going to drive right at it and make something happen.— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) June 9, 2014
But Parker is clearly compromised health-wise, and if this series goes seven games, it is not difficult to imagine him failing to hold up. For the Spurs to win this series, their point guard must continue to stay on the floor and dictate the action offensively.
Though the 38-year-old Allen has struggled with his shot for much of the season, he has quietly shot an impressive 52.6 percent from the field this series. He's taken nearly 2.5 more shots per game this series, an indication of his assertiveness and offensive guile.
quietly, ray allen has all kinds of okeydoke moves. and can STILL slow dribble all the way to the rim once or twice a week.— Bomani Jones (@bomani_jones) June 9, 2014
Shooting has been a critical component of Miami's offense since the Big Three era commenced. Though Rashard Lewis has continued his unexpected renaissance, it would be helpful if his ex-Sonics teammate were a greater force from three-point range to add additional bench scoring.
Indeed, Allen has shot the corner three well this postseason, hitting the shot at a roughly 41 percent clip. If he can step up and complement Lewis to provide sorely needed bench shooting, last season's Finals hero could be a huge asset once again.
Leonard's offensive numbers have been down this series, an expected byproduct of expending so much energy as the designated LeBron stopper. However, Game 1 provided an alarming stat line for Leonard:
Kawhi Leonard had more turnovers than baskets, assists or rebounds.— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) June 6, 2014
Leonard did not turn the ball over in Game 2, but he was also more offensively inefficient, shooting 3-for-9 en route to nine points. It's a stark departure from his breakout 2013 Finals showing, in which he played excellent defense while also averaging 14.6 points per game.
The third-year forward has arguably the most difficult job on the San Antonio roster, but given his track record, the expectations remain high. Even if Leonard continues to force LeBron into difficult jumpers as he has in the first two games, his impact will be blunted without a more assertive offensive mindset as well.