On a team flush with future Hall of Famers, the Miami Heat received a boost from a player who played under 20 minutes per game during the regular season in their Game 2 NBA Finals victory over the San Antonio Spurs last night: Rashard Lewis.
In his prime, the 6-foot-10 power forward regularly averaged around 20 points per game and was feared for his long-range shooting. He was a two-time All-Star. He’s earned more than $100 million during his career.
But on Miami’s championship team last season, Lewis played just 14.4 minutes per game, adjusting to a limited role coming off the bench during insignificant moments. It was a job he played this season, as well, grateful for the opportunity to be on another perennial contender.
But in recent playoff contests, Lewis has emerged as a key component of the Miami offense. Lewis has started in the team’s past five games, spacing the floor and burying shots in clutch moments. He didn’t score in his first start — Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals — but he’s averaged 14 points since.
His performance last night was perhaps his most valuable so far.
With less than 10 minutes remaining in the contest, Lewis caught a pass from Chris Bosh and buried a three to give Miami an 83-80 lead. In a fourth quarter that featured several dramatic lead changes, Lewis provided the opening salvo.
He finished the night with 14 points, to the delight of coach Erik Spoelstra. Per probasketballtalk.com:
“Rashard at times this year wasn’t playing, but he kept himself ready,” Spoelstra said. “And you can’t just step into an environment if you’re not putting in hours and hours of time behind the scenes.”
Playing on a two-year, $2.8 million contract, Lewis is far from Miami’s most glamorous player. With almost no expectations(and probably less scouting attention from Gregg Popovich), Lewis has provided steady scoring for Miami, whose success is largely contingent on surrounding LeBron James and Dwyane Wade with sharp shooters.
James and Wade often like to generate offense by driving into the lane. From there, they either try to attract contact or kick the ball out to one of the shooters along the wing. Enter Lewis.
Between Mike Miller's departure and Shane Battier's plunge to irrelevance, Lewis has stepped in as a go-to shooter. Add in Udonis Haslem's reassignment to the bench, and you have Lewis' renaissance.
Yet he is far from a one-dimensional player. He's a capable passer from the power forward position(he averages 1.7 assists for his career) and he has the ability to score from the post. Two of his 14 points on Sunday came from backing down Danny Green in the left post and finishing with a right handed floater early in the third quarter.
Having Lewis as a productive scorer on the floor gives Miami yet another option to pair with the James, Wade, Bosh and Allen. San Antonio has to pick their poison on defense.
At the tail end of a solid NBA career, Lewis is having a defining run. And for a Heat squad on the verge of their third consecutive title, it couldn’t be happening at a better time.
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