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Playoff Assist: The versatility of the Spurs' role players coming through

By Zach Harper | NBA writer

More NBA Finals: Schedule, results | Carmelo 'very unlikely' to join Heat, Bosh says

The San Antonio Spurs' engine is reliant on the stars of the team (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili) being very good at what they do to carry the offense for stretches. What makes this team elite though is their ability to maximize the effort, effectiveness, and production of the role players in a multitude of ways. It gives Gregg Popovich and his coaching staff the confidence of knowing if Duncan or Parker or Ginobili have to sub out of the game for a key stretch, the supporting cast can continue to run the offense, execute the defense, and keep all momentum in their favor.

The Game 3 victory over the Miami Heat was about as perfect of an example as you can find. The level of the effectiveness was a bit of an outlier considering the Spurs made 19 of their first 21 shot attempts. But the way different role players stepped up in different aspects of the game was phenomenal. You saw Kawhi Leonard take a huge chunk of the scoring early and never let up within the flow of the offense. You saw Boris Diaw continue his passing excellence to make the right play. And you saw Danny Green be a pest defensively to help create turnover after turnover by the Heat to disrupt their offense.

Let's take a closer look at those three performances and how they kept the Spurs' engine moving along.

The scoring of Kawhi Leonard

After Game 3, the majority of the talk surrounding the Spurs was about Leonard and how he could possibly carry the torch for San Antonio beyond this current era. The biggest reason was the historic way he scored in an NBA Finals game. He was the first player 22 years old or younger to score at least 29 points in an NBA Finals game since Kobe Bryant did it in 2001. Kobe did it twice and prior to that, it hadn't been done since Magic Johnson did it in 1980. A guy of Kawhi's age and experience just doesn't have scoring nights like that in the Finals. It's only happened five times in the last 50 years.

Whether you want to call it the Hot Hand Theory or whether it was just the perfect storm of Leonard wanting to make up for a frustrating Game 2 while be completely focused to make an impact, he dominated Game 3. The beauty of his game was how balanced his scoring was and how efficient the areas of where is scoring came from were. Aside from one pull-up jumper off of the dribble just inside the 3-point line, Leonard either scored from beyond the 3-point arc or in the paint in that win.

Take a look at his shot chart:

These are the type of shots you want him taking and you love him being aggressive in how he took them. There isn't much to break down in terms of how he did it, you really can only marvel at the way he managed to score. Everything was measured, everything was aggressive, and nothing was forced aside from one jumper.

I'm not sure many people had Leonard outplaying LeBron James in this game, but he managed to do it. Here are his buckets from the game, broken up into his jump shooting from outside and his great job of attacking the basket.

The jumper looked smooth but the way he used his power, control, and savvy around the hoop was great. His steps were measured and he even smartly "let go of the ball" to avoid a jump ball so he could get an extra step for the layup. He overpowered Chris Bosh on one play. He absorbed the contact on a few others. But he always had poise around the hoop. I'm not sure how much of this we should expect in the rest of this series, but it's definitely something we'll see more and more of in the future.

The passing of Boris Diaw

The impact of Boris Diaw through the first three games of this series has been large. Inserting Diaw into the starting lineup and realizing the Spurs are just a perfect match-up against what the Heat do with him on the floor has given Popovich a great counter at all times. Through three games, Diaw is third on the team in assists with 14. Parker leads the team with 19 assists and Ginobili has 16 in the series so far.

Diaw only had three assists in Game 3, but they were a beautiful example of why his passing is so key to keeping this offense going.

The first assist came on the first possession of the game, establishing the spacing and execution the Spurs could create with him on the floor. The offense never stopped moving on the first play, Diaw got into a pick-and-pop with Parker, and he immediately turned it into a drive that delivered a pass to Duncan before Chris Bosh could recognize where he needed to be next. The second assist was some of the beautiful interior passing that has given the Heat problems. And the third assist was maybe the biggest one of the game when he kept moving the ball around the perimeter to an open Marco Belinelli. Belinelli knocked down the big three that took all of the wind of the sails of the Heat's comeback.

With Diaw off the court, the Spurs are still executing at high efficiency on offense with an offensive rating of 109.2. With Diaw on the court, that number shoots up to a ridiculous 119.3 in 102 minutes against the Miami Heat in the biggest series of the season. It's almost unreal.

The defense of Danny Green

While Danny Green's scoring and shooting are his typical contributions to what the Spurs do, he wouldn't be on the floor as much if he wasn't playing solid defense. When he's giving the team great production at both ends of the floor as he did in Game 3, he's a perfect role player for any team. Green's offense was good, making 7-of-8 from the field for 15 points. However, his defense was the bigger impact.

Green created five turnovers by the Heat off of steals and even had a great block in transition. Let's take a look at some of the chaos he caused:

As you can see in the video, Green's anticipation was perfect when playing the pass or stalking the dribble of the man in front of him. He did a great job of stripping the ball clean on a couple of different plays, only to leave the Heat players frustrated and hoping for a bailout call. Off of the five turnovers he forced on steals, the Spurs scored seven points. For the game, the Heat's 20 turnovers led to 23 points.

The Spurs aren't going to have this kind of domination every game, especially not in the NBA Finals. However, it's a great display of how the organization prepares their role players to step up and how the role players aren't afraid to assume the responsibility of doing it on the big stage.

Leonard, Diaw, and Green have shown great versatility. (USATSI)
Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw, and Danny Green have shown great versatility. (USATSI)

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