If history is any indication, the 2014 NBA Finals are over. After all, teams are a perfect 31-0 all-time when they go up 3-1 in the championship series, and that is the exact lead the San Antonio Spurs have over the Miami Heat heading into Sunday's Game 5.
However, the Heat are the two-time defending champs, so the outcome of Game 5 is far from guaranteed.
While superstars like LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are sure to play major roles in the contest, there will be under-the-radar players who help shape the outcome, especially for the deep Spurs. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of those role players who will be critical in Game 5.
For the record, Boris Diaw can no longer be considered under-the-radar because he has arguably been the Spurs' best player outside of Kawhi Leonard in this series. Diaw is putting on an absolute clinic passing the ball and wowed with his behind-the-back dime in Game 4 to Tiago Splitter. He is also eviscerating future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade when Wade tries to guard him on the blocks.
Patty Mills, Spurs
Patty Mills was an integral piece of San Antonio's Game 4 effort, scoring 14 points behind 5-of-8 shooting from the field, 4-of-6 from downtown. He stemmed some of the brief momentum Miami had on multiple occasions with those threes.
Mills was an absolute spark plug in the energy department on both ends of the floor and spent much of the game darting inside and outside of the Miami defense as a ball-handler. As soon as Mills got rid of the ball, he would find an open spot (often in the corner for a three-pointer) and dash there.
Of course, he made the Heat pay for being a step too slow nearly every time.
On the defensive side, he has made a living harassing Miami's guards with that same tenacity and his lateral speed and quick hands. Mills commented on his role after Game 4, via the San Antonio Express-News' website: "That's a good way to describe my job and what I'm going to do. If I'm not a pest defensively, I don't feel like I'm doing my job and getting the job done."
Mills even turned James back on multiple occasions.
Mills will be that same energy burst off the bench in Game 5 against a Miami team that already has looked fatigued in the past couple of games. The Heat simply don't have any answers for his speed, and that won't change now that Mills is in front of his home fans.
Look for Mills to score in double figures again and anchor San Antonio's lethal second unit against the beleaguered Heat starters or their vulnerable bench.
James Jones, Heat
At this point, it's desperation time for the Heat, so they may as well try something new.
Erik Spoelstra, likely thinking the same thing, even inserted journeyman Toney Douglas in the second quarter of Game 4, so why not try James Jones on Sunday? Jones lit it up in his three minutes of action Thursday (when it was admittedly long over), scoring 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting—3-of-3 from behind the three-point line.
Talk about some incredible per-48 minute statistics.
Miami's offense was completely lost in Game 4 unless LeBron James scored, and players like Mario Chalmers and Wade struggled mightily. Someone like Jones could open up the lane for the Heat's penetrators because defenders will not be able to cheat off him from behind the arc.
A few three-pointers from Jones in Game 5 could keep this contest much closer than the past two have been and open up future opportunities for his teammates to attack the rim.
Matt Bonner, Spurs
Much in the same way Jones can open up the floor in Game 5 for ball-handlers like Wade and James, Matt Bonner can serve as a lethal three-point shooter for the Spurs.
He tallied three points, two rebounds and two assists and made his only shot from the field in Game 4. Incredibly, that shot came when he attacked the rim and dropped a floater in the lane, which inspired some reactions from Matt Mosley of Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated NBA and Kurt Helin of Basketball Talk:
Bonner was able to penetrate because Miami's defense is so extended trying to guard all of the Spurs' three-point shooters that there are holes large enough to drive a truck through. The more long-range shooters on the floor, the more difficult it is for Miami to contain this offensive machine, and Bonner is definitely a three-point shooter
Look for him to hit a critical three-pointer or two in Game 5 in what will almost assuredly be a closer game than the two in Miami.
Long-range shots from role players have a way of firing up the home crowd, and the Spurs may just need that boost if the Heat play with the desperation we would expect from a champion on the brink.
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