It’s been an eternity, but the NBA Finals are about to begin. By now, you know the major players — LeBron James, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Kyrie Irving, etc. — who’ll impose their will on the series and write their names in the history books. Seemingly every year, an unlikely hero emerges in the Finals to key a shift in momentum or even swing a game. This man won’t win the MVP, but he will be remembered for his “out of nowhere” performance, like Danny Green and Mike Miller raining 3s in the classic 2013 Spurs-Heat Finals, or Warriors coach Steve Kerr being the unlikely hero to hit the final shot of the 1997 Finals:
Steph and LeBron won’t play 48 minutes a night, nor will Draymond or Kyrie or Klay Thompson. The Warriors have the deepest bench in the league, so there are any number of reserves that could step up in a crucial moment for them. The Cavaliers are, shall we say, not quite as deep, but if they’re going to pull off the upset, they’ll need meaningful contributions from role players. So, which players are the most likely of the unlikely ones to be a hero? Let’s look at the Cavs first:
I was considering leaving J.R. off this list because he’s almost too obvious, but he’s not a starter, and I love him (on the court, not on his dumb Instagram). But I’m writing this article, not you, so just lay off, alright?
J.R. may be the single biggest X-factor in this series. He’s just as likely to shoot 0-10 from three as he is to shoot 8-10, but rest assured, he’s getting those shots up. His irrational confidence is legendary. In the playoffs so far, he’s hit a shade under 40 percent from deep, which will certainly play. He’ll have more defensive responsibility than he’s comfortable with — that’s just how it works against the Warriors — so he’ll need to stay engaged on that end to prevent the Cavs from bleeding more points than he can get back if/when he catches fire.
The bottom line is that if J.R. Smith gets hot, these Finals get way more interesting. And fun. He should go Zero Dark Thirty on social media, though.
If James Jones plays here, now that will be a surprise. Of all the creaky vets that the Cavs brought in to make LeBron feel more comfortable — Jones, Mike Miller, Shawn Marion — Jones is the only one still getting minutes. Defensively, he may be the worst player to see the floor in this series, but he’s got two things going for him: He’s 6-foot-8, and he can shoot the three. Mark my words, there will be at least one point in the Finals when LeBron has to rest and the Warriors keep size out on the floor. Tristan Thompson will probably average as many (if not more) minutes per game as LeBron, but a lineup with him and Mozgov without LeBron is offensive death. Jones will play, and if he hits a couple of shots in Cleveland, the home crowd is sure to go nuts. He’s more likely to pull a 2013 Mike Miller than 2015 Mike Miller is, anyway.