As the 2012 NBA Finals tip-off tonight, all eyes will be on the superstars from both the Heat and Thunder, and rightfully so, this is a dream match-up made in basketball Heaven. Good role players though have to find a way to come through in times of need, and it’s what makes a good team a great one. Here are some players from both sides who will be X-factors in their team’s Finals success:
While this might be the first Finals for Battier, the popular Dukie treats every game like a Finals Game Seven. He is valued, and sought after by title contending teams every off-season for a reason, and that very reason is for this time of year. Battier brings the intangibles that denote a good team from a contending team. His defensive tenacity against Indiana in the wake of Chris Bosh’s injury was as important to the Heat advancing as Dwayne Wade’s knee being drained. His size and activity are assets that allow head coach Eric Spoelstra to employ multiple lineups, as Battier’s defensive versatility allows the Heat to play different styles. Battier can guard positions 2-4 and will be key in getting LBJ rest during the series, especially when guarding Kevin Durant or James Harden. Battier is also a dangerous shooter, making him a nice offensive compliment to the Heat’s penetrating offense, spotting up and spacing the floor properly to allow for driving lanes. Battier is shooting 35% from deep, but more important is the threat of him shooting which keep defenses honest, not allowing them to pack the paint. Battier will also be the smartest guy on the court and probably the only player to create a PDF document on stopping Durant. A player that’s been coveted for series like these finally has his chance.
Often considered the smallest pieceof the “Big Three”, Bosh needs to play like he’s it’s biggest. It looks like Bosh is fully back to health, which is great news for Heat. In his absence, his team struggled mightily to replace his offensive production, making the Heat very one or two dimensional on offense. Without the tripods third leg, Wade and James needed to play at brilliant levels to keep the Heat afloat. They struggled desperately to score points. Now that he’s back, he cannot show signs of rust and has to continue being aggressive. Offensive playmaking is what he brings, and the Heat need him to deliver. He is the Heat’s third best offensive playmaker and must play that way for Heat to be most effective. He is the only low post presence the Heat have amongst their bigs, and defensively he cannot get exposed. His physicality will surely be tested by the Thunder big men, Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison. What’s more important for Bosh though is offense, trying to make things easier for James and Wade when the Thunder will be dialed in to stopping their scoring binges. Bosh came up huge in Game Seven against the Celtics, scoring 19 points and grabbing 8 rebounds while being aggressive in the fourth quarter, a quarter they went into with the score tied. Bosh hit a career best three three-pointers in the game, with the last one coming in the fourth quarter, sparking the Heat’s winning run. His aggression and lack of hesitation show that he is back to form, which couldn’t come at a better time for the Heat. As coach Spoelstra said after Game Seven, Bosh is the Heat’s most important player.
Haslem is no stranger to big stages, and in a series where his team is outmanned down low, both his experience and physicality will be tone setters for the series. Haslem is Miami’s best down-low banger, and the Thunder provide a lot of big, active bodies down low for him to collide with. The Heat are known to play small with Haslem sometimes playing center, showing off his grit and versatility as a big man. The battle in the trenches will be an uphill one for the Heat, and Haslem has his work cut out for him. His offense though, might be more important than his defense. Haslem is the Heat’s second best pick-and-pop option, consistently making mid-range jump shots that break the backs of defenses League-wide. The consistency in his jumper is what makes him a dangerous option; just take a look at what he did to Indiana, especially in crucial moments of Game Four. Contested 15 footers are a part of the bruisers arsenal and he’s not scared to pull the trigger in big moments, making him a threat on the court that must be accounted for. Haslems role as their lone banger, combined with his pick-and-pop abilities, will make him a huge part of his team’s Finals success.
The Leagues Sixth Man of the Year Award winner will need to prove his title on the game’s biggest stage. Hardens production off the bench is what has gotten the Thunder to this point, and is what makes them so dangerous. It will also be the reason why they win, or lose the whole thing. Harden is arguably the Thunders 2nd best decision maker, and when the ball is in his hands, there isn’t a more creative play-maker than Harden. Harden must find a way to score, and penetrate the Heat defense often. He makes the right plays and is unselfish, typical of Coach Brook’s team. He’s averaging almost 18ppg during the playoffs, along with 5rpg and 3.5apg in 30mpg. Getting the ball to the rim will be his most important job, creating fouls on the way as he is averaging nearly eight free throws a game these playoffs. His offensive production is important to his team, as he’s not only their best bench player, but their third best player overall, the third leg of the Thunder’s own “Big Three”. If Harden isn’t effective, the Thunder could be in serious trouble.
Sefalosha made his presence felt last series in a huge way. After Tony Parker went nuts, torching the Thunder the first two games of the WCF and giving the Spurs a 2-0 series lead, coach Brooks employed more of Sefalosha’s defensive services. The defensive presence he brings changed the series for good. Parker was limited in his penetration, and Sefalosha’s overall length and activity on the perimeter helped fluster the Spurs as a whole. He starts every game over Harden and that’s for good reason; he’s the Thunder’s best defender. He can guard any perimeter position, which allows Brooks to be versatile with his lineups and rotations, toying around with the athleticism he has at his disposal. Sefalosha also helped put away the Spurs with his three-point shooting, being aggressive and shooting when he’s open, making himself a threat on offense. He’s a streaky shooter and has connected on 37% of his threes this postseason, but that’s not what he’s on the floor for. He will most likely be concentrating more on guarding James or Wade, and disrupting whatever flow the Heat offense falls into, getting hands on passes and contesting jumpers all over. His intangibles may be a reason why his team wins the title.
And now for some real intangibles. While the Thunder’s well-being doesn’t depend solely on the production of the 37 year-old veteran, Fish has played a big part in the Thunders run to the Finals this year. Coach Brooks couldn’t have a better and more professional veteran presence in his young locker room than the 5-time champion. Fish finishes games on the court for the Thunder, something the Lakers weren’t willing to try during the end of his LA tenure. His experience, basketball IQ, and shot making abilities are immeasurable. Fisher is the second guard off the bench, after Harden, and will be asked to play solid against a young, fast, and talented Heat. Fish plays off the ball in OKC, making Brooks’ lineups small and quick, yet potent. Always known for the big shot, Fish scored 7ppg during 20mpg in the WCF, helping discard the Spurs, his old nemesis. Coach Brooks has done well in hiding the flaws that the Laker front office chose to expose in the 15 year vet. Fish was initially signed to replace Eric Maynor, but his experience and veteran presence is exactly what a team full of 20-something year olds need in their first trip to the Finals. It’s Fisher’s 8th finals appearance, and it’s this kind of guts that you can’t teach or evaluate easily. You can only enjoy it.
Durants Mom-Her hugging abilities will no doubt be crucial to the outcome of the series. Ok, maybe not.
The Needle that Drains Dwayne Wade’s Knee– Ok, this one might be serious.