Role Call: Heat, Thunder Need Lesser-Known Players To Shine

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JUNE 12: Nick Collison #4 of the Oklahoma City Thunder goes up for a layup in front of Shane Battier #31 of the Miami Heat in the second half in Game One of the 2012 NBA Finals at Chesapeake Energy Arena on June 12, 2012 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The Oklahoma City Thunder came out victorious over the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals thanks to Kevin Durant being a closer down the stretch, but role players from both sides kept it close through three quarters.

Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Finals certainly didn't disappoint as Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder closed out the Miami Heat to land the opening blow in the potential seven-game series.

The key player's effects on the end result are what's going to be looked at by the majority until Game 2 begins -- Durant and Russell Westbrook are great, LeBron James is "unclutch," Dwyane Wade nees to step up and all of the other things those people say -- but the star players weren't always the most important on Tuesday night.

No, even though Durant found himself in the majority of Tuesday morning's headlines and talk radio focused on how James and D-Wade need to be better if the Heat are going to win their first ring with the Big Three, it was the role players that kept everything even through the first three quarters of play.

Both teams essentially have three core players -- James, Wade and Chris Bosh for the Heat; Durant, Westbrook and James Harden for Oklahoma City -- that should be able to essentially cancel each other out throughout the course of a seven-game series. That leaves the "others" with a pretty important role and, at least in Game 1, they did more than just about anyone expected.

Tuesday night's first half belonged primarily to Miami as the Heat jumped out to a seven-point lead on the backs of King James and D-Wade Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers. Battier is known best for what he does that is not included in the box score, but the veteran wing tallied a team-high 13 points in the first half (he'd end up with 17 points while making 4-of-6 from beyond the three-point arc) while Chalmers provided a steady hand running the offense on his way to an overlooked 10 points and five assists before the halftime buzzer sounded.

A different development happened in the second half, however, when the Thunder turned up the defense en route to altering their gameplan by keeping players like Battier and Chalmers from beating them. The changes worked, too, as Miami's more-important players weren't able to pick up the slack due to outstanding performances from some of the lesser-talked about Oklahoma City options.

Front and center was Swiss born Thabo Sefolosha, a player who has shown throughout the NBA Playoffs that he's capable of stepping up and shutting down a top option on the opposing offense. And, when the wing defender was summoned to do that very thing in the second half, he succeeded again.

Sefolosha wasn't alone in sparking the resurgence, however, as Nick Collison turned in an excellent performance summed up well by our friends over at Welcome To Loud City in their post on the Game 1 grades.

I was really, really impressed with Nick Collison's play last night. He supplanted Ibaka in the 4th quarter rotation and responded in a huge way. He played well off of the Thunder's pick and roll plays by getting open slam dunks late in the game, set some great screens for his teammates (including the play that sprung Westbrook free at the end of the 3rd, and most importantly, Collison grabbed 10 rebounds, 5 of which were offensive.

The Heat are not a great rebounding team in the vein of a Memphis or Chicago, but they get a high number of tap-outs to prolong offensive sequences. Collison almost matched the Heat's offensive rebounding by himself, (Heat had 7 total) and this advantage was critical in keeping the Heat from making big runs in the 4th.

The output put together by the aforementioned Lesser Four -- Battier and Chalmers for the Heat, Sefolosha and Collison for the Thunder -- in Game 1 probably should have allowed them to stake a claim to being more important, given the circumstances, than what the respective Big Threes were able to do in the first game of the series.

Whether that trend continues or not remains to be seen due to gameplan changes, but the X-Factors showed on Tuesday night that there's a lot more to these two teams than those that make the headlines.

For more on the Heat, head over to Peninsula Is Mightier and SB Nation Tampa Bay. For Thunder news and notes, visit Welcome To Loud City. And for news, analysis and everything else revolving around the NBA Playoffs, be sure to visit SB Nation's NBA page.

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