Nine NBA Finals games between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat over the last two summers have shown us the stars need assistance to win the series, even if you've got the best player on the planet on your side.
The defending champs squeezed by the Spurs in a 98-96 Game 2 win on Sunday night, evening the series and avoiding their first two-game playoff losing streak in more than two years. But they did so without much help from two point guards that have been so valuable in years past.
Mario Chalmers scored five points and Norris Cole didn’t dent the scoreboard, but the team’s starting point guard said it hasn’t yet become a concern.
“Game 1, I was in foul trouble the whole time, but today I got into a little bit of a rhythm,” Chalmers said, dismissing the idea that playing the first two games on the road makes a difference. “But our job is really to contain Tony Parker and hit shots when we get shots.”
In 2013, the Miami combo of Chalmers and Cole played a big role as part of the supporting cast of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Heat's way to a second consecutive title. The two combined to score 15.5 points a night over the course of the seven-game series on top of nearly two 3-pointers per game and 1.6 steals.
While neither is at the level of Tony Parker or any of the other elite-level point guards Miami faces along the way, as a package they offer a solid supporting counter to players of the Spurs point guard's ilk.
But not so far this time around.
Through the first two games of the series, Chalmers and Cole have had a rough go. The two have combined for just 10 points total in Games 1 and 2, and they're not making the sort of defensive impact on the perimeter to make up for any offensive shortcomings.
While the Big 3 and Ray Allen have already made their marks on what looks to be a tense, closely fought series, they're not getting much help from these key backcourt role players.
“When you get to this point of the season … it's tough playing every other night to carry the load,” James Jones said. “This is a five-man sport. You can put yourself in a good position with three guys, but three guys can't win it all for you.
“Every night it has to be someone else or our main rotation guys consistently.”
Chalmers and Cole were a combined minus-14 in the Heat's Game 1 loss, and by the end of Game 2 they notched a plus-2 between them, helping their numbers with a late run in the win.
Miami managed to pull even, but it's likely going to need more help than it's gotten from the two guards before this series is over. Chalmers played 31 minutes in the Game 2 win to only 11 for Cole, but the Heat spent time without either on the floor during this game.
The Heat isn't dependent on the two players as individuals, but they've complemented the Big 3 on both sides of the ball so well for years. When Miami gets the 35-point, 10-rebound version of James, it's nearly unbeatable.
Still, in a long series against Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, that kind of contribution anything but a nightly guarantee. A little help goes a long way.