After watching the first 2 games of the Eastern and Western Conference Finals, it is evident that all 4 teams will be in for a struggle. The teams that advance to the NBA Finals are going to have to prove that they're in it for the long haul, that they possess the mental toughness and fortitude to see close games through to the end. Fans expect the big names to step up to the plate in the waning minutes of the 4th quarter. James, Nowitzki, Rose, Durant, etc. are the ones we anticipate making the big shot or exploding late in the game to guide their team to victory. While all the superstars have provided fantastic performances on most nights, basketball is a comprehensive game. Even Michael Jordan couldn't win a championship all by himself-- these series are going to come down to the bench players and whether or not they can orchestrate game winning play.
The last few days have proven this to be true. Chicago seemed to be in a position to take game 2 from the Heat and head to Miami with a comfortable series lead-- until Udonis Haslem provided an offensive and defensive spark off the bench which supplemented big nights from Wade and James. Derrick Rose had a poor shooting night and the lack of assistance was a glaring hole for the Bulls. They played fantastic defense (only gave up 85) but that couldn't overcome the lack of offensive production. In game 1, the Heat's Big Three played as expected but without bench support they couldn't overcome big nights from Rose and Deng.
The Thunder just evened the series against the Mavericks last night and they were driven by 21-year-old guard James Harden off the bench. Westbrook didn't play the entire 4th quarter...but it didn't matter because the slack was picked up by Harden as well as Eric Maynor. In the first Western game (aside from Dirk's ridiculous shooting performance) we saw Jason Terry and JJ Barea each score over 20 points. Those guards stepped up when the main line wasn't producing too much offense and provided Carlisle the chance to be flexible with his units.
The reality is that the superstars can't do it all by themselves. Even if they play in excess of 40 minutes a game, the rest of the starters are going to sit at some point. Durant, Nowtizki, Rose, James and Wade can't be expected to propel their teams forward by themselves...they need aid and that is why the NBA Finals might be decided by players with names that don't necessarily seem right for the spotlight. As a Celtic fan, I will readily admit that we were outplayed by the Miami Heat. But the key is that our 2nd line was outplayed by the Heat, the starters competed well. Bench players like Korver, Haslem, Harden and Terry are vital to these teams to buoy the offensive runs that are sure to come from the opponents. It is critical that bench players play excellent offense and defense (or that they fulfill whatever role they need to) because the superstars are going to go out each night and get their buckets. The question is: who else is going to get theirs. That answer will probably give us a good idea of who will win the Conference Finals and the NBA Finals.