Western Conference Finals 2012: Role Players That'll Turn Tide for Either Side

David DanielsSenior Writer IMay 24, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 23:  Thabo Sefolosha #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts late in the fourth quarter while taking on the Dallas Mavericks in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Oklahoma City Arena on May 23, 2011 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Defense is underrated.

How many times have you heard an ignorant sports fan say no one plays defense in the NBA? While it’s true that perfect offense beats perfect defense in basketball, that doesn’t mean defense doesn’t play a huge role in determining a game’s outcome at the professional level.

On that note, the likes of Kevin Durant, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Tim Duncan, James Harden and Manu Ginobli will without doubt receive all the attention going into the 2012 Western Conference Finals. However, the impact that the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder's role players will make on the series cannot be understated.

Here are the most important glue guys on each squad—pay attention to their niche. 

 

4. Thabo Sefolosha

Sefolosha proved that he’s one of the top on-ball defenders in the NBA against the Los Angeles Lakers. Expect Scott Brooks to match him up with Manu Ginobli as much as possible. Eliminating the sixth man’s ability to penetrate will go a long way to slowing the Spurs’ electric offense.

 

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 15:  Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers drives on Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs in Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 15, 2012 in San Antonio, Texas. The Sp
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3. Kawhi Leonard

According to Tim Griffin of the San Antonio News-Express, Leonard is already drawing comparisons to Bruce Bowen from Gregg Popovich.

While the rookie is the Spurs' last offensive option, he’s their most important defensive player. Against Kevin Durant, he’ll either solidify the Bowen comparison or fall victim to the league’s top scorer.

Leonard’s ability to avoid getting lit up is equally, if not more important than Tony Parker dominating offensively.

 

2. Kendrick Perkins

Perkins is averaging 3.9 points a game in the playoffs, so he won’t make his presence felt on the offensive end. On defense, though, he’s capable of changing the entire series. The 6’10”, 270-pounder is the best post defender in the NBA.

If he shuts down Tim Duncan, OKC will be well on their way to victory. Despite his decline, Duncan is still a force offensively. He averaged 21 points a game against the Los Angeles Clippers—cutting that number in half would do wonders for the Thunder.

 

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 20:  Danny Green #4 of the San Antonio Spurs and Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers go after the ball in the second half in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 20, 2011 at Staples Cen
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1. Danny Green

Green should write a book: How to Go from Being a Scrub on the Cleveland Cavaliers to a Starter on the San Antonio Spurs for Dummies.

I’d buy it.

The former Tar Heel is the ultimate role player. He doesn’t need to touch the ball on offense, but in catch-and-shoot situations, he’s a lights-out shooter from deep. This postseason, he’s averaging an insane 45.7 percent shooting from downtown.

On defense, he’s even more valuable. He spent time on Chris Paul against the Clippers and gave CP3 fits. His success or failure in checking James Harden and Russell Westbrook makes him the series’ greatest X-factor.

 

David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.