Sometimes it's more about depth than it is star power.
The NBA playoffs are considered a time for teams to tighten their rotations, milk their superstars and employ the use of reserves sparingly.
With the season winding down and the championship on the line, franchises naturally want their best players on the floor. Playoffs aren't a time to dilly-dally or rest. The LeBron James' and Tony Parkers of the league need to step up, play big minutes and ensure their team isn't forced to rely on their bench as often.
While such is the case for the Miami Heat, the San Antonio Spurs play by a different set of rules. They have to. Their core of Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili isn't as young at that of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
South Beach's average player age (31.2) is actually higher than that of San Antonio's (27.9), but they don't have a 37-year-old Duncan to worry about, nor a 35-going-on-36-year-old Ginobili. Miami doesn't have to depend on depth to win a title. Or rather, they shouldn't.
An injured and slumping Wade is of concern to the Heat, as is a sinking Bosh. They're supposed to be LeBron's sidekicks, superstars who negate the absence of extensive depth. To this point, they haven't, and the results have reflected as much.
Miami appears deeper than advertised when Mike Miller goes off from downtown or Mario Chalmers plays like a second offensive option. Situational depth of that kind isn't consistent, though. Miller isn't always going to fill the offensive void left by any one or all of the Heat's Big Three. The same goes for Chalmers and, at this stage of his career, Ray Allen, too.
Game 1 of the finals saw four Miami players score in double figures—each of the Big Three and Allen. The Heat still lost, unable to overcome the Spurs, who had five players notch at least 10 points apiece.
In Game 2, the Heat hammered San Antonio by 19 points. This time, they had five scorers in double figures to the Spurs' three and two players (Miller and Chris Andersen) with nine.
Bosh and Wade combined for just 22 points, but LeBron posted a near triple-double in conjunction with Chalmers' 19 points and Allen's 13 to propel the Heat to victory.
Game 3 delivered a true bombshell.
Battling an injured hamstring for much of the night, Parker mustered only six points and eight assists. Ginobili had just seven points and Duncan merely 12. The Spurs still won, by a lot.
Led by Danny Green (27 points) and Gary Neal (24 points) San Antonio clobbered Miami, pulling away in the second half to win by 36 points.
That same game, LeBron was held to 15 points on 7-of-21 shooting, the driving force behind the Heat's loss. Wade had one of his better outings (which isn't saying much) with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting and Miller went 5-for-5 from deep to finish with 15 points, but the Heat still lost.
Because LeBron couldn't toil with a triple-double or absolutely take over, nothing anyone else did was enough.
"Seven-for-21 [shooting] isn't going to cut it," LeBron told reporters one day after the Game 3 loss, according to Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun. "Zero free throws isn't going to cut it...I am the star, I am the leader. They look to me to make plays."
"If I'm not doing that, I'm not doing my job," he added.
And the Heat aren't winning.
San Antonio isn't built like the Heat. Never would you hear Duncan, Parker or Ginobili say "I am the star" with a straight face. LeBron has to, because it's the truth. The Spurs don't, because their success is predicated upon the contributions of the many, not the few.
Parker is arguably the best point guard in the league, yet not even an off night for him could prevent the Spurs from winning. Meanwhile, we've seen teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder struggle when Russell Westbrook is taken out of the equation and the Memphis Grizzlies fail miserably when Zach Randolph decides not to show up.
The Los Angeles Lakers bordered on unwatchable sans Kobe Bryant, and not even Chris Paul could will the Los Angeles Clippers to victory playing next to an embattled Blake Griffin. Then there's the whole LeBron fiasco from Game 3.
Now we're at the point where one might say that Parker isn't as important to the Spurs as any one of those players are to their teams, but 1) you'd be wrong to say so and 2) that's sort of the point.
For much of the regular season, Parker put up MVP-caliber numbers, proving irreplaceable. And he is. But the Spurs were still 11-5 without him during the regular season; they're still a formidable threat without him. Or anyone on their roster for that matter.
Depth is more important than most understand, even in the playoffs. Exclusively riding superstars only gets you so far, if those players can't perform at the level they're expected to.
In San Antonio, that's not as much of an issue. Contingency plans are in place in the form of reserves and role players. Injuries and disappearing acts make it more difficult to win, just not impossible.
Hence the Spurs being where they are—in position to win an NBA title.
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