Boris Diaw, Danny Green, Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis may not have the pedigree of LeBron James and Tim Duncan, but they could easily turn the tide of Game 3 of the NBA Finals, for better or for worse.
So far, Diaw has been playing his best on defense versus James, and Green gives the San Antonio Spurs a reliable catch-and-shoot option.
Cole put the clamps on Lance Stephenson in the Eastern Conference finals, but is struggling on offense for the Miami Heat. Lewis has stepped up big time as the starting power forward.
With both teams ready to make adjustments, here is how the four role players will make an impact in Game 3.
San Antonio Spurs
With Kawhi Leonard struggling, Boris Diaw has been defending James more than ever.
The 10-year veteran has plenty of bulk to give James trouble in the low post. In Game 2, however, the cracks in Diaw’s defense started to show and James poured in 35 points.
Diaw’s LeBron-stopping strategy for Game 3 (via Hardwood Paroxysm14 on YouTube) seems to be Lance Stephenson-esque: Get in James’ face and make scoring a battle of attrition:
It’s a good mindset, but Diaw helps San Antonio out the most on the offensive end. In Game 2, Diaw had 10 rebounds (three offensive) and five assists. His unique skill set off the bench will help the Spurs keep up with the high-flying Heat in Miami.
Danny Green won’t be a dark-horse Finals MVP candidate like he was last year. His minutes have been reduced and he isn’t scorching-hot from three-point land.
That doesn’t mean he is the weak link in San Antonio’s starting lineup, however. Despite less playing time, his points-per-game average in Games 1 and 2 is close to where it was in 2013.
|3-point makes||3-point FG%||PPG||MPG|
|2013 Finals, Games 1 & 2||10||66%||14.5||32|
|2014 Finals, Games 1 & 2||7||50%||11||23|
Pro Basketball Reference
Green remains the Spurs' deadliest threat from long range. He doesn’t seem to shy away from the Finals stage, so a trip to Miami shouldn’t weaken his impressive shooting numbers. Green will have at least 15 points on Tuesday night.
Besides the haircut, there is one thing consistent about Norris Cole: his perimeter defense.
Cole has been the Heat’s energy guy off the bench for the past three years, picking up steals and harassing opposing guards.
Unfortunately, Miami hasn’t seen the good Cole against the Spurs due to his poor shooting. The Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson breaks down the numbers:
Cole is now 7 for 26 from the field (27 percent) in eight career Finals games against the Spurs. In his regular-season career against San Antonio, he’s shooting 35.7 percent from the field (15 for 42), including 4 for 13 this season.
If Cole can’t offer anything on offense, the Spurs can feel more comfortable doubling James. Going back home might cure Cole’s shooting slump, but his current numbers don’t provide much hope.
Rashard Lewis has been impressive as Miami’s starting power forward in the playoffs.
Miami Heat play-by-play announcer Mike Inglis indicates that he’s even on his best scoring streak since joining the Heat two years ago:
@MiamiHEAT Rashard Lewis scored dbl-figures 4gms row for 1st time since Jan 11-17, 2011.— MikeInglisHEAT (@MikeInglisHEAT) June 10, 2014
This includes his 14-point, 5-for-9 shooting performance in Game 2. With Shane Battier all but retired, Lewis has quietly taken his role on the team. Much like Battier, Lewis is a floor-spacer who can guard bigger bodies down low. He also gives wise, team-centric quotes.
“To me, it's about if you've got to make one 3-pointer to win that championship, we need you to make that one 3-pointer,” Lewis told Jonathan Abrams of Grantland. “Whatever it takes.”
Lewis won’t sneak past the Spurs in Game 3. They now know his shooting performance isn’t a fluke, which will lead to tougher defensive assignments. He might not show up on the scoreboard, but Lewis will do just what the Heat need him to: keep the paint empty for James to exploit.
Which role player will make the biggest impact in Game 3?
All four of these role players will make an impact in Game 3, be it good or bad.
Green and Lewis are two shooters who aren’t afraid of the big stage, and they should give their respective teams what is necessary. Green will likely trump Lewis in points, but Lewis will make the bigger defensive impact.
Diaw and Cole will struggle in Game 3 on one side of the ball. Diaw won’t have an easy time on defense guarding James, unless Leonard decides to show up. However, his offensive impact makes the Spurs offense efficient and versatile.
Cole will be his usual, wild self on defense. His offensive ability will not frighten San Antonio at all, though, and fewer than eight points scored is a safe bet.