It goes without saying that you must have a star player or two on your roster in order to reach the conference finals of the NBA playoffs. But to win a title, role players have to elevate their game to another level.
Whether it's been Steve Kerr or John Paxson on the 90's Bulls, Robert Horry coming up clutch for the Lakers in the early 2000's, or Mike Miller shooting lights out in whatever gym he was in during last year's postseason, role players always seem to be more prominent when teams are getting closer to basketball's ultimate prize.
With that in mind, here are some guys who could be the deciding factor in who takes home the Larry O'Brien Trophy next month.
- Shane Battier
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- Lance Stephenson
The former Cincinnati Bearcat has emerged in this year's postseason as both an outstanding defender and ferocious rebounder, averaging 8 boards over 12 games. Still, he will have his hands full throughout the Pacers-Heat series guarding Dwyane Wade. Stephenson has taken on the identity of the rest of this Indiana squad, with in-your-face-type play that will have to come to the forefront if they are to advance to the Finals. Also, his 10-point average will have to increase with the Pacers consistently struggling to score in their halfcourt sets. Stephenson is not a natural shooter from 3-point range, but anything he can give Indiana from the outside will be a complement to his defensive prowess. In Game 1, Stephenson pulled down 12 rebounds, but was a non-factor offensively, with only 7 points in 43 minutes of action. If the Pacers want to pull off the upset, he'll have to give them more.
- Quincy Pondexter
Pondexter's 3-point shooting ability will be a key in the Memphis-San Antonio series. The Grizzlies, who have struggled all year long shooting, will need Pondexter to hit corner 3's to provide spacing for the big men, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Also, when he comes in off the bench, the former Washington Husky will have to provide energy and defense against Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard. Pondexter has shot a solid 44% from 3-point range in the playoffs, and if Memphis wants to get back in this series, he must play a big factor. With Tayshaun Prince struggling on both ends of the floor through the first 2 games, Pondexter has to give his team at least 30 minutes of solid all-around play every night.
- Tiago Splitter
During the regular season, Splitter averaged 10 points and 7 rebounds per, but those number have gone done during the playoffs (6 points and 4 rebounds). He will have to be much better if the Spurs are going to beat the Grizzlies and win an NBA championship. Splitter struggled in Game 1, not scoring in 17 minutes, but played very well in San Antonio's overtime win in Game 2, dropping 14 points and holding his own on the defensive end. From here on out, he will have to be even more aggressive on the offensive side of the floor to force Zach Randolph and/or Marc Gasol to work extra hard on both ends. Also, Splitter's rebounding numbers will have to improve as the series shifts to Memphis this weekend.