Over the course of any given NBA game, each team has somewhere in the vicinity of 95 to 100 possessions. It goes without saying that possession No. 100 (as well as quite a few others in the 75 to 100 range) are specifically drawn up for your LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul or Dirk Nowitzki — in other words, the higher the possession number gets, the more likely it is to belong to Player No. 1.
However, someone has to take the reigns on various other lower-numbered possessions throughout the game, because though the biggest moments are frequently authored by superstars, the course of the game is often determined by unsung players a quarter or two earlier. With that key distinction in mind, here is a look at some unheralded supporting players who could make a sizable impact in the first round of the playoffs and beyond:
Steve Blake, Trail Blazers
He looks more like the kid who used to wear a stocking cap to high school on warm days than a vital piece of an NBA playoff team, but the lightweight Blazers’ point guard has quietly had a career year. Granted, as career seasons go, this one hasn’t been anything mind-altering (he averaged 11.0 points and 5.1 assists per game), but Blake’s value lies in his 3-point accuracy (12th in the NBA at 42.8 percent) and efficiency. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.28 ranks fifth in the league.
J.R. Smith, Nuggets
Smith lives his basketball life largely by following one basic creed: “You can’t make the shots you don’t take.” And when the Nuggets’ hired gun has his rapid-fire release on target, the outcome is explosive — in his first six games of April, the 23-year-old averaged 25.3 points and an outrageous 5.3 3-point makes per game, capped by a relentless 45-point, 11-three outburst against the Kings on Monday night.
Compared to Blake, Smith has a relatively high profile for a supporting player, because whether it’s an explosive dunk or fast-paced 3-point barrage, he makes a lot of noise on his best nights. His worst nights tend to be noisy too — a rapid succession of clangs can be quite cacophonic.
Delonte West, Cavaliers
When you think of Cleveland, your immediate reaction is to focus on LeBron James. Secondly, you probably think of the team’s second-leading scorer, Mo Williams. Then you might picture Zydrunas Ilgauskas burying a baseline set shot, followed by a moment to consider Anderson Varejao’s "Sideshow Bob" hair and penchant for drawing charges.
PBT: LeBron James created self-imposed pressure to win "not two, not three, not four" titles. Thus, should the Heat's title chase fail, it's his legacy that will take the hit.
PBT: All season long, the Heat have largely coasted, only turning up their intensity when facing elimination. That won't be good enough in Game 6 tonight.
Video: NBA from NBC Sports
Bosh: 'We'll see who hits first'
Heat forward Chris Bosh talks about what could be a very physical Game 6 stating, 'hit them in the mouth, throat and their eyes'. Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra says the opposing Spurs 'attack you.. but we do the same thing'.
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