Depth isn't required in the playoffs. Rotations are limited to about seven or eight players who play the majority of the minutes. The rest of the team is just along for the ride.
At least, that used to be the conventional wisdom.
In 2011, the Dallas Mavericks entered the postseason with one of the deepest benches in the league. Head Coach Rick Carlisle would give just about any player an opportunity and preached "stay ready" to his bench. They did. Game after game role players emerged to give the Mavericks the edge they needed on their way to the franchise's only championship.
The Mavericks weren't supposed to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round. None of the experts at ESPN predicted the Mavs would win the series though a few thought it would go seven games. Former Moneyball manager LJ Rotter also thought that Dallas could take the series to seven games. She picked the Mavs to win, though. Nationally, the Mavericks were the underdogs. This was the Lakers after all. They had all the jewelry. They had the history. They had Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and an Andrew Bynum that is barely recognizable today. The spotlight was theirs.
In game one, it looked as though the national crowd may be proved right. It just didn't seem like Dallas had what it took to take on the vaunted Lakeshow. The Mavericks stumbled and made a series of mistakes that looked like it would cost them the game. None was more of a blunder than Jason Terry fouling Lamar Odom from the other side of the court as he tossed up a prayer to end the half. Odom made all three free throws. Dirk Nowitzki was then hit with a technical foul. Bryant went to the line and converted. Dallas led with two minutes remaining in the first half 42-41. They trailed at halftime 53-44.
After seven quick points by the Lakers to start the third quarter, Carlisle called a full timeout. The Lakers' lead was now 16 points and Dallas looked deflated. Carlisle turned to the end of his bench and summoned for Corey Brewer to enter the game for DeShawn Stevenson. Brewer only logged four minutes in the playoffs up until this point. Only Brian Cardinal and Ian Mahinmi had played less. Yet, his number was called.
Brewer may have been on odd choice to toss in the game based on his credentials with the Mavericks up until this point. He was little used and only appeared in 13 games with the team during the regular season after being picked up as a free agent after the Knicks waived him. He was a former starter with the Minnesota Timberwolves now reduced to a bench role and spotty playing time. His biggest accomplishment, now a fading memory, appeared to be playing alongside Joakim Noah and Al Horford in college.
He would make the most of his opportunity, though. In just over six minutes with Brewer on the floor, Dallas cut the Lakers' lead to just two points. In that span, he contributed five points, including a timely 3-pointer, an assist, a steal, and drew a foul on Bryant. Brewer would leave the game after almost eight and a half minutes and the Mavericks down 71-66. While Brewer can't be given credit for the whole comeback effort, it was his spark off the bench that ignited it. He pestered Bryant. He swiped the ball from Gasol twice. He got out and pushed on fastbreaks. He spread the floor. He moved the ball. He brought energy. He was exactly what Dallas needed. Brewer finished the game with a Plus/Minus of +11, the highest mark on either team.
Dallas clawed their way to a 96-94 victory on some clutch free throws late in the fourth quarter. This was a game that the Mavericks probably had no business winning. Kobe was in Kobe Mode that night. He scored 36 points on 48.3 percent shooting. No one was going to stop him. It didn't matter, though. Great teams are measured by the quality of their stars and role players. As a role player, Corey Brewer is one of the best.
Unfortunately, Brewer appeared in just three other games during the playoffs, scoring a total of four points, as he was never really able to break into the rotation. He left the Mavericks that summer after the title run to join the Denver Nuggets for a couple of seasons before returning to the Timberwolves, the team that drafted him, last season. His game has grown since his time in Dallas. He starts now and plays an exciting style of basketball predicated on anticipation. It's a shame that Mavs fans didn't get to know him better.
But we'll always have those eight minutes in game one against the Lakers.