When we think about the NBA Finals, we think about the names.
And, by golly, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh sure do give the world plenty of reasons to love or hate (and mostly, watch) the Miami Heat.
Granted, the names on the San Antonio Spurs aren’t quite as dynamic. But die-hards sure do love chanting the names of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginibili.
All of that is swell — but those may not be the names that matter most when it comes to actually winning a championship. At least, they may not be the only names that matter, with the best-of-seven series tied 1-1 and shifting to San Antonio for three games.
As we’ve learned so far, role players on both teams are trying to make us notice something beyond their colorful and fairly bizarre tattoos.
OK, that part only applies to Heat backup big man Chris Andersen — whose energy, athleticism and lack of actual NBA skills have perplexed opponents for all postseason long. That includes these Finals, as the man they call The Birdman continues to soar through the air with the greatest of ease, tipping in misses and altering shots.
Andersen stands alone only in his freakiness.
In Game 2, many of the guys beyond each team’s Big Three stepped out of character and made the biggest of impacts.
For the Heat, men like Mario Chalmers (19 points, 6-for-12 shooting), Mike Miller (3-for-3 on 3-pointers) and, yes, Andersen (nine points, unlimited hustle) made up for so-so nights from the likes of Bosh (12 points), Wade (10) and even James (17).
Meanwhile, if it wasn’t for Danny Green (6-for-6 shooting, 5-for-5 on threes), the Spurs might have lost by 102. Duncan (nine points) and Ginobili (five), on the other hand, were totally human.
Now, those players, particularly on the Heat come into even greater focus. As NBA coaches and analyst everywhere will tell you, the difference between winning and losing on the road most often comes down to the role players.
That’s especially true in a series such as this — where the brightest of stars almost cancel out each other.
Ginobili and Wade make similar impacts.
Same with Duncan and Bosh.
And James and Parker are clearly the top two players still performing, and perhaps have been the top two all season.
Of course, the so-called role player who is shouldering the heaviest of burdens hasn’t even been mentioned yet. That would be none other than Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich isn’t really asking for much. All Popovich wants is for Leonard to try to check LeBron.
Leonard is in just his second season. He was the 15th overall pick in the 2011 draft. He’s big enough (6-foot-7), strong enough (225 pounds), very well-coached and surrounded by the right people.
But he may not have been expecting this type of challenge so early in his career.
If Leonard does a good enough job on James, it forces the Heat to turn to regular folks to try to get it done in the year’s biggest moments. If not, this is liable to be a landslide – and not one that’s tilted in the Spurs’ favor.
No pressure, kid.
But if these Finals have taught us anything, it’s that it doesn’t really matter if you’re the reason everyone is tuning in to watch.
All you need to do is figure out where you belong, play the role well, and forget all about who’s supposed to be great and who’s not.
Oftentimes, it’s the little things, and names, that actually matter.