There are no true unheralded gems on either the San Antonio Spurs or Miami Heat. No otherwise unrecognized cogs ready for stardom that haven’t already been pegged, accurately scouted on national TV over and over again. Most statements about this series will run the obvious route – we know that Kawhi Leonard’s all-around gifts could turn him into a Scottie Pippen clone, eventually, and that a healthy round from Dwyane Wade can turn the Heat into something legendarily special. We’re aware of these fine fellows, already, and thankfully we’re about to be treated to an NBA Finals that could possibly approximate the legendary 2013 battle between these two squads, one that went seven thrilling games.
There are X-factors here, though, players that could tilt the series just enough to secure a win for their team in – gasp! – fewer than seven games. Let’s meet the Spurs’ triptych of tilters:
By now, you’re well aware of Green’s pamphlets, and it’s been suggested that you dive into his entire catalogue. Green famously nailed 25 of his 38 3-point attempts (a ridiculous 65.7 percent) in the first five games of the 2013 NBA Finals, allowing for some to refer to him as a dark horse MVP candidate. Green missed nine of his final 11 treys in Games 6 and 7 of the eventual Finals loss, though, and he missed four of six during the single game he played against the Heat in the regular season. Either they’re onto him, or the percentages are evening out.
If the latter is the case, then Green might be in for a rough series as his current 48 percent (yikes) playoff three-point percentage could return to the (still quite impressive) 41 percent he hit during the regular season. That’s bad timing at its worst.
The Spurs didn’t need Green to nail nearly two-thirds of his long range bombs in order to take that 3-2 lead over Miami last season, but it certainly helped. If he can find ways to free himself in both delayed transition and off of offensive rebounds, to say nothing of worming his way toward the ball in half court sets, while shooting in the 40s? That’ll help. That’ll really help. That 5 for 17 3-point mark over his last three games against Miami is worrying, though.
The Heat have seen players like Mills before, but they haven’t worked against a player like him in what feels like a long, long time.
Mills is not a good passer, and he isn’t asked to pass even while working as a reserve point guard. He’s out there to pull up for long jumpers and push the ball in hopes that a crease and scoring opportunity will open up. He’s out there to take the sort of bad shots you don’t expect a rotation player to be attempting – it is June, after all – and to create offensive rebound opportunities when the ball caroms off the backboard at an angle nobody could anticipate.
Throughout these playoffs – against the former Bobcats, Nets and Pacers – the Heat have yet to play against one of these sort of second-string gunners. Mills has cooled off in the postseason, watching as his sparkling 42 percent shooting rate from long range has dwindled to a subpar 33 percent, but one killer “I don’t give a rip” second quarter’s worth of shooting could absolutely sway this series, especially if placed tidily within the confines of AmericanAirlines Arena, and especially if Tony Parker goes cold again from the perimeter, as he did against San Antonio last season.
Boris Diaw, for years and with several different NBA teams, is always everyone’s favorite X-factor. He’s the guy that you have to beg to shoot, to beg to drive or look for cutters or throw his weight around, and some 11 years into his NBA career he’s still working on that every-other-day policy of bringing the aggression. Something about the confines of the French working week.
Splitter, however, is in danger of being run right out of the Spurs starting lineup, if not the rotation. He was clipped from the starting lineup for the Spurs’ last two wins over Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals, and put up pedestrian totals of 11 points and four rebounds in 22 combined minutes. This comes on the heels of a disappointing, injury-plagued regular season, and a 2013 Finals that saw Splitter bounced from the starting lineup in San Antonio’s final three games.
He didn’t enjoy double-figure scoring once in that series. He was a bit of a non-factor (seven points, four rebounds) in a single injury-free game against Miami during the regular season. He’s probably the reason LeBron James made the NBA All-Defensive Second Team, some 12 months after this play.
He could also make a difference in this series. He could muscle his way for offensive rebounds, he could make the extra pass, he could finish after receiving the extra pass, and he could put Miami in the penalty – Splitter did well to draw fouls against Oklahoma City’s second team in the conference finals. Whether starting against Miami’s willingly feeble frontline or bombing around with the reserves, Splitter could be the sort of unexpected ripple that puts San Antonio in a position to succeed.
Such is the role of an X-factor. Their call.
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