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NBA Finals Game 2: Two Players to Watch

The Heat and Spurs each have a Big Three -- players that are focal points for their respective team’s offensive and defensive schemes. In Game 2, I’ll have my eye on two of the other guys: Rashard Lewis and Kawhi Leonard. If one of these role players pops off for a big game, don’t be surprised if their team wins.

  • Rashard Lewis: Lewis got some pub during the Eastern Conference Finals because he went scoreless for Games 3 and 4, but posted a +35 -- an impressive plus/minus stat. In this series, the Spurs are basically daring him to shoot, leaving him more or less open in the corner. The logic is simple enough: Pop would rather Lewis try and beat them than basically anyone else on the Heat. In Game 1, Lewis scored 10 points, but had a raw plus/minus of -20 (ouch). The plus/minus stat can be deceiving -- Lewis was on the floor after LBJ left in Game 1 and the Spurs went on their shooting barrage which contributed to his poor marks in that area. He shot 4-10 from the floor and 2-6 from downtown -- OK numbers overall. A big game out of Lewis could swing Game 2 -- and he’s capable of putting up those numbers. Against the Pacers in Game 5, Lewis hit 6 three pointers and though the Heat lost by 3, they had a chance to win it at the end even though Lebron scored a playoff career low of only 7 points. Don’t forget, Rashard is a career 38.6 percent shooter from downtown and a two time All-Star who started for the 2009 Orlando team that went to the Finals. Granted, he only shot 34.3 percent this year from long range, but again, the Heat don't need him to carry the offense, just hit his open shots and the Spurs are leaving him wide-open. If Rashard hits a few of his early corner threes, the Spurs will start to honor his shot-making ability and stay at home on him in the corner which will open up driving lanes to the rim from Lebron and Wade -- maybe Bosh will even get into the action and take Timmy off the dribble from the elbow. Lewis can open up the Heat offense and I'll be watching to see if he does it tonight.
  • Kawhi Leonard: Mirroring his personality, Kawhi was quiet in Game 1, finishing with only 9 points on 3 for 5 shooting (and he hit one of those threes in garbage time, after the Heat were already halfway to the locker room). Before the series, I expected Kawhi to carry his aggressive play from the OKC series into the Finals and attack James in order to make him work defensively. Maybe the Spurs are using him differently -- more as a spot up shooter and less as a play-maker -- or maybe James’s defense is too much for a young player still developing his off the dribble game. Either way, I don’t think the Spurs can win this series if he plays like just another guy. Kawhi is definitely the Spurs's most athletic player and the guy on their team with the most upside -- the most room to grow. I had hoped before the series that he would take another step in his maturation as a ball player (as he had in each playoff series this year) and realize even more of his seemingly endless potential. Leonard has posted a mind-numbing +122 in raw plus/minus in this postseason, leading all players in the playoffs in the stat (James, who is second the category, is +107). Even though he was a veritable no-show on the offensive end in Game 1, he played the best defense of anyone against James, forcing him into some tough fade-away jumpers (James hit some of those looks, but those are the shots the Spurs want him to take). Tonight, I look for Kawhi to come out and post James up early and to provide that extra punch offensively. The Heat are 12-1 coming off of a loss in the playoffs since coming together in the 2010-11 season (their sole L coming in the 2011 Finals in Game 6 when they ceded the championship to the Mavericks). The Spurs will need Kawhi tonight to buck the trend and beat the Heat.

This is a fan-created post on HotHotHoops.com. The opinions here are not necessarily those shared by the editorial staff at Hot Hot Hoops.

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