It appears as though every basketball fan in the United States is tuning in to the 2014 NBA Finals. The drama is potent enough to make the renaissance sports fan forget about the impending 2014 World Cup. Well, almost.
The second-straight NBA Finals series between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat is proving to be even more compelling to viewers than the first, as per Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy.
Game 2 of NBA Finals delivered 15,006,000 viewers, which is up from last year. The series is averaging 14,929,000 viewers, up 4% from 2013.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 9, 2014
This is the kind of attention for a rematch that boxing promoters can only dream about these days.
LeBron James has been the media lightning rod for the first two games of the series. He faced criticism for checking out of Game 1 with leg cramps in an eventual 110-95 Spurs victory. Perhaps in a response to the public backlash, James went berserk in the next tilt, putting up 35 points and 10 rebounds in a 98-96 win for the defending champions.
Bleacher Report's own Joe Giglio summarized James' outstanding performance in Game 2.
LeBron James scored 35 points, took over the game and shutdown a Hall of Fame point guard with the game on the line. Business as usual.— Joe Giglio (@JoeGiglioSports) June 9, 2014
He's dominated the conversation surrounding the NBA Finals so far, but there are quite a few players besides James who have made big impacts of their own in this series.
Here is the updated television schedule for the rest of the 2014 NBA Finals, as well as the key players to watch—other than James—in Game 3.
|3||Spurs||Heat||June 10||9:00 p.m.||ABC|
|4||Spurs||Heat||June 12||9:00 p.m.||ABC|
|5||Heat||Spurs||June 15||8:00 p.m.||ABC|
|6*||Spurs||Heat||June 17||9:00 p.m.||ABC|
|7*||Heat||Spurs||June 20||9:00 p.m.||ABC|
NBA.com, *if necessary
Players to Watch
Kawhi Leonard has the unenviable task of guarding King James, who undoubtedly takes up the majority of his attention on the hardwood. Still, the Spurs had to be expecting more out of Leonard than this.
In two games against the Heat, Leonard has just 18 points, four rebounds and three assists. During Game 1, he struggled with turnovers in the first half. In Game 2, the problem was foul trouble, as Leonard picked up six personal fouls for the first time in his career.
Leonard has a tendency to pass up good shots in the Spurs offense. It's hard to blame a player surrounded by stars like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili for making the extra pass, but if he's not crashing the offensive boards, he will need to take his open looks from the floor in Game 3 and be that extra scoring outlet the Spurs need.
How unlikely have Lewis' NBA Finals heroics been so far? Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders gave fans something to consider before Game 1.
Rashard Lewis played a total of 12 minutes during last year's Finals and he didn't play in four games altogether. Tonight, he's starting.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 6, 2014
The HoopsHype.com Twitter account provided another startling insight.
In the Finals, Rashard Lewis is outscoring Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw.— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) June 9, 2014
He's scored 24 points on 47.4 percent shooting thus far in the series. His ability to knock down shots from beyond the arc has created ample space on the floor for the Heat. The importance of his presence is not lost on his teammates. James, via Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk:
Rashard has been huge for us ever since he’s been inserted into our starting lineup, from the Indiana series. He’s been in this position before. He’s been to the Finals with the Orlando Magic. He’s been in huge playoff games, and his experience and ability to knock down shots helps us out a lot. It spreads the floor for us, and every time he catches the ball, we tell him just to shoot it. Don’t think about nothing else besides shooting the ball, and we live with his results.
If catch-and-shoot is all that is asked of Lewis in this series, don't expect him to have any problem continuing his recent success in Game 3.
It's always a pleasure to watch a player take over a game without scoring in bunches. Boris Diaw has proven to be one of the finer things in life for roundball connoisseurs in this series.
Diaw has brought down 10 rebounds in each of the first two games while contributing 11 assists. He was so good in Game 1 that he garnered a plus-30 plus/minus rating despite going just 1-of-5 from the floor.
His talent extends beyond the numerical descriptions of the box score; it is a shame that passes like this count as just a single assist.
And yes, Leonard has LeBron-watch duties, but ESPN Stats & Info pointed out that the pot-bellied forward might be the true answer to stopping James.
Who will guard LeBron James tonight? Last NBA Finals James shot 48% vs Kawhi Leonard, 38% vs Danny Green and 14% (3-21) vs Boris Diaw.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 5, 2014
It will be interesting to see if Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich decides to make a defensive switch—he's proven to be unafraid of tinkering with his lineup in high-stakes affairs. Look to see if Diaw draws James as his defensive assignment in Game 3.
If Diaw can contribute with an extra bucket here and there while maintaining his high level of play elsewhere, he just might be the guy who tips this series in the Spurs' favor.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are the obvious stars on the Heat roster, but this team would be nowhere without Chris Bosh making sure he fills in the gaps on the stat sheet.
Head coach Erik Spoelstra commented on Bosh's role on the team and the versatility he offers, as per Craig Sager Jr. (filling in for his father, TNT's Craig Sager):
Spoelstra added "Bosh has to do a lot of different things for us each game...He's one of the most stable & mentally tough minds in the game"— Craig Sager II (@CraigSagerJr) June 9, 2014
It's true. Bosh has continued to shrug off remarks about his diminished stats and third-option status in pursuit of a legacy based on championships, not individual accolades.
One of those myriad qualities that Bosh has fine-tuned this season is the three-pointer. Prior to this season, Bosh never attempted more than 74 three-pointers in a single season. He extended his range in a hurry, jacking up 218 three-pointers and sinking them at a 33.9 percent clip in 2013-2014, as per Basketball-Reference.com.
He's been especially deadly from the corner in the postseason, via NBA.com's statistics-based Twitter account.
Bosh's go-ahead three-pointer in the final two minutes of Game 2 was from the corner.
His newfound ability to stretch the floor pulls the Spurs defenders out of the paint, allowing James and Wade more room to operate in the middle. A string of corner three-pointers from Bosh with the home crowd at his back could ensure the hometown fans stay loud for the duration of Game 3 in Miami.