Rashard Lewis: The Miami Heat's Secret Weapon in the NBA Finals

The Heat have needed a player outside the Big Three to get hot over the last two years in order to win the title. Is Rashard Lewis that player in 2014?

We’re five years removed from the last time that Rashard Lewis had a player efficiency rating above the league average of 15.0 for a whole season, and his last relevant playoff series prior to this year was in 2010 with the Orlando Magic. The 16-year vet is a far cry from the All-Star he once was with the Seattle Supersonics (pour one out), and he looked much older than 34 as recently as two weeks ago.

Now, for some inexplicable reason, he is one of the most important players in the 2014 NBA Finals.

Go figure.

Up until Game 4 of the Heat’s Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the Indiana Pacers, Sweet Lew’s time with the Miami Heat was certainly devoid of bells and whistles. He averaged 5.2 and 4.5 points per game in his first two seasons with the Heat, and was negligible in last year’s title run, playing 4.3 minutes per game in the 11 contests he saw floor time, averaging 1.5 points in the process.

This year looked like more of the same - 4 points here, 0 points there - until the Eastern Conference Finals. After racking up two DNP-CDs in Games 1 and 2 and scoring 0 points in Game 3, Lewis was inserted into the starting lineup. As mentioned back in our Finals preview, the lineups featuring Udonis Haslem (didn’t spread the floor enough) and Shane Battier (showing his age in his final season) simply weren’t working. Coach Erik Spoelstra was forced to look to Lewis for a spark. Despite the 0 points in Game 3, the Heat won and Lewis was a +21 in over 17 minutes. It was worth a shot.

He didn’t necessarily get it going right away in that first start in Game 4 – he stuck with the trend of scoring 0 points - but the team won yet again and Lewis was a +14. Two games, both Heat wins, Lewis scored 0 points combined, but was a +35. Ok, might as well stick with it.

Since then, somehow he's gone from being a non-scoring plus-minus anomaly to one of the team’s leading scorers. Over his last five games, Lewis has averaged 13.8 points per contest and hit 18 of his 34 three-point attempts (52.9%). Even including the first start - when he scored 0 points and went 0 for 5 from deep - his production over the last six games since being inserted into that starting lineup beats his previous 21 playoff appearances with the Heat combined (over the last two Finals runs) by a considerable margin in just about every way.

First 21 Heat Playoff GP16738164734.0%32015.0%
Last 6 Heat Playoff GP17269255248.1%183946.2%

In fewer than one-third of the number of games, Lewis has exceeded his previous accumulation of total playoff minutes played with the Heat, almost doubled his point total, and hit six times as many three-pointers, all while shooting 14.1% better from the floor and 31.2% better from long range. Those two lines tell the story of two very different versions of the same player, and are happening in the reverse order of what you would expect from an aging vet well beyond the wrong side of 30.

The funny thing is, the Heat may have a Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, and the most prolific shooter of all time in Ray Allen, but they have relied on this kind of Finals renaissance from a role player now for three years running. Resurgences like Rashard’s are becoming commonplace, perhaps even expected (I mentioned as much back in that preview).

Without the heroics of Shane Battier in 2012 against the Thunder, there may never have been a first ring for the King. After a series of goose eggs and low-point totals throughout the 2012 NBA Playoffs, Battier went off for 17 points and 6 three-pointers in each of the first two games of the Finals against Oklahoma City. He then threw in 11 points and 4 threes in the fifth and series-clinching game. The minutes Battier averaged between the first three rounds and the NBA Finals stayed close to the same, but the increase in production and efficiency was undeniable.

Shane Battier (2012)MINPTSFG%3PM3P%eFG%
First 3 Rounds32.35.731.2%1.532.1%43.6%
NBA Finals37.511.661.3%3.057.7%85.5%

In 2013, it was Mike Miller who played that role when the Heat faced this same Spurs team. After totaling five scoreless games over the first three rounds and never topping out more than six points in the process, Miller went a combined 8 for 8 from long range in Games 2 and 3 of the Finals, setting and then resetting his 2013 playoff high with 9 and then 15 points in the process. That earned him a spot in the starting lineup for Games 4 to 7.

He scored 0 points in three of those four games, but in the now infamous Game 6 - the one where Allen hit the corner three that we’ve all had burned into our retinas since - Miller was big again. He went 3 for 4 from deep, including the clutchest and most important three-pointer anyone has ever hit with only one shoe on in NBA history. For the Finals, the Heat had a net rating (points scored per 100 possessions minus points allowed) of +17.3 with Miller on the floor, and a lowly -10.8 when he was off of it. If it hadn’t been for Mike Miller’s leap in production and efficiency from the first three rounds to the Finals of 2013, would back-to-back Heat championships have even happened?

Mike Miller (2013)MINPTSFG%3PM3P%eFG%
First 3 Rounds8.02.134.8%0.527.8%45.7%
NBA Finals21.85.359.1%1.661.1%84.1%

Now in 2014, with the Heat down 2-1 to a dangerous San Antonio Spurs squad that’s hell bent on erasing last year’s missteps, Miami’s getting a familiar resurgence. With Battier on his last legs and with Miller out of town, that extra Finals boost has had to come from Rashard Lewis.

Rashard Lewis (2014)MINPTSFG%3PM3P%eFG%
First 3 Rounds15.74.035.8%0.932.4%47.2%
NBA Finals29.912.753.8%3.050.0%71.2%

Even with a couple of decent performances at the end of the Eastern Conference Finals, Lewis’ numbers from the first three rounds pale in comparison to his numbers through the first three games of the NBA Finals. The Heat will need his rebirth to continue if they want to tie this thing up before leaving Miami.

According to our algorithms, if the Spurs can take a 3-1 lead tonight, their odds of winning the series go all the way up to 90.99%. That stands to reason, considering that teams in NBA Playoff history that have gone up 3-1 in a seven-game series have gone on to win 96.3% of the time (209-8), including an unbeatable 31-0 series record in the Finals.

If the Heat manage to even up the series, the odds fall to a far more palatable 57.67% in favor of the Spurs. It’s not perfect with two of the final three games remaining in San Antonio, but not insurmountable either.

And, whether we’re ready to believe it or not, the end result might be dictated by just how well a player that was considered washed up just a few weeks ago performs. I’m sure the Miami Heat are hoping the rebirth of Rashard will continue.