After an impressive Game 1 performance that saw them come back from a half-time deficit to beat the Miami Heat, the San Antonio Spurs were schooled in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. If the Western Conference representative is going to bounce back in Game 3, it will need contributions throughout its lineup.
It's obvious that the likes of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have to be better on Tuesday than they were on Sunday night, but the Spurs are a team that thrives off of strong performances from unexpected sources. They will need a few such performances in order to get back on track after an ugly Game 2.
Here are three unsung role players who must step up in a big way on Tuesday night in order for the Spurs to capture Game 3 and regain control of the NBA Finals.
Most of the talk with regards to Spurs center Tiago Splitter following Sunday's Game 3 has to do with the Heat superstar LeBron James rejecting the 6'11" Brazilian. The game was already well in hand at that point as Miami held a 19-point lead with about eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but it was a noteworthy play due to the sheer athleticism James displayed, which SportsCenter showcased through this video:
Even aside from that play, Splitter didn't have a stellar Game 2. Head coach Gregg Popovich doesn't expect him to score 20 points per game, but he only managed four points to go along with one rebound while playing 23 minutes. It's tough to fathom a man of his size only pulling down one rebound in 23 minutes, and that is something that simply cannot happen in Game 3.
The one obvious advantage that San Antonio has over Miami is size, which directly translates to rebounding ability. The Spurs absolutely must take advantage of that in order to regain traction in Game 3 as second-chance points can certainly throw the Heat off their game. Aside from Duncan, Splitter is one of the bigs who need to elevate their play as "The Big Fundamental" can't do everything himself.
Most fans probably figured that former superstar Tracy McGrady was on his last legs a couple years ago, but the Spurs clearly believed there was something left in the seven-time NBA All-Star when they signed him for the stretch run. T-Mac has been used sparingly in the playoffs, but it's entirely possible that he could play a role in the NBA Finals moving forward.
McGrady isn't the player he once was and he isn't a guy who can play 40 minutes, or even 30 minutes for that matter, but he does still possess the ability to go on offensive binges in small spurts. That role normally belongs to Ginobili as far as the Spurs are concerned. However, Manu has been awful throughout the playoffs and the Spurs may be best off cutting his minutes. Although Nate Ravitz of ESPN jokes about McGrady's role with the Spurs, there is no reason why it can't be expanded.
T-Mac played eight minutes for the Spurs in Game 2 and didn't record a point. He was used in mop-up duty and wasn't really given a chance to contribute, but he has a ton of experience and a terrific resume, so he could very well share time with Ginobili. Perhaps that isn't something that Spurs fans necessarily want to see, but Ginobili just isn't getting it done right now.
In a game that saw Spurs big men such as Splitter, Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner contribute very little, it's almost impossible to explain why DeJuan Blair logged a mere eight minutes. Blair is undersized for his style of play at 6'7" and he isn't a guy who should play big minutes, but he is a heart-and-soul type player who should thrive in big games. No games are bigger than those played in the NBA Finals, so the Spurs have to release the beast in Game 3.
Blair is essentially San Antonio's version of Heat forward Udonis Haslem. He is as unsung as they come and the odds of him putting up huge numbers are extremely low, but he makes winning plays. Even if the Spurs' coaching staff isn't willing to increase Blair's minutes, Blair made it clear on Twitter that he is ready to seize the moment whenever he is given a chance.
What Blair lacks in height, he more than makes up for with will and determination. There are few players in the league with his hustle and toughness, so one would think that he's tailor made for the playoffs. If Popovich increases Blair's playing time, the Spurs will likely reap the benefits.
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