Expert’s Corner: Playoff Game Changers

NBA experts around the world – including Hall of Famer Magic Johnson – all seem to agree that we might be in the midst of the greatest First Round of the playoffs in NBA history. We have witnessed several underdog victories,improbable big shots, memorable buzzer-beating game-winners, and more overtime games than ever at this stage of the playoffs.

And behind every spectacular First Round moment has been a spectacular individual. Whether a superstar or a role-player, these men have made headlines for their improved performances in the post-season. On this week’s edition of NBA India Expert’s Corner, Akshay Manwani and Karan Madhok name five players from each conference that have been the biggest game-changers of the playoffs so far.

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Karan Madhok
Writer, NBA India
Western Conference Game-Changers

LaMarcus Aldridge: Although he was held to just eight points in Portland’s Game 5 loss, Aldridge has been on a different stratosphere in the post-season thus far, scoring 89 points in the first two games and leading all of the Western Conference in scoring (29.8 ppg) while also grabbing 10.8 rebounds in the playoffs thus far. Aldridge will have to be at the top of his game if Portland hope to close the series out.

Blake Griffin: This year, Blake Griffin enjoyed his best-ever regular season and morphed into an outside MVP candidate. He has continued the dominance in the playoffs, shooting at an astonishing 57.8 percent while scoring nearly 25 points per game against the Warriors. Most impressively, Griffin has made the most of his minutes, scoring 35.7 points per 48 minutes in the playoffs so far, second only to LeBron James.

Tony Allen: Too often, we focus on the individuals who get the big numbers and fill the box scores and forget the game-changers who deny those big numbers. Before the Game 6 blowout, Tony Allen had been the force that denied this year’s likely MVP Kevin Durant from reaching his optimal potential, and even Durant admitted that he had been rattled by Allen’s pestering, physical defense. Durant’s True Shooting Percentage fell down from .635 to .493 in the first five games.

Kevin Durant: That said, Kevin Durant is still Kevin Durant, and despite what the headline to the Oklahoman newspaper may say, he is anything but ‘unreliable’. Even his worst days are better than most players’ best days, and even his “struggles” are brilliant. In tying the series 3-3, Durant has averaged 29.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. KD is still struggling to be efficient against the tough Grizzly defense, but he has still been a game-changer in the postseason.

Manu Ginobili: Few players have bounced back into form this season better than the wily veteran Manu, and through the first five games, he has surprisingly been the leading scorer for the Spurs with 19.6 points per game in just 29 minutes per contest off the bench. Ginobili has significantly upped his numbers from just 12.3 ppg in the regular season, and his aggressive play and penetration have been the spark for San Antonio against the surprisingly competitive Mavericks.

Akshay Manwani
Writer, NBA India
Eastern Conference Game-Changers

Paul George: Yes, the Indiana Pacers have got much flak for stretching this series to a Game 7 against the eighth seeded Atlanta Hawks, but George’s performance still stands out. Even as most of the Pacers have struggled to put up consistent numbers, George has averaged a double-double in these playoffs with 22.8 ppg and 10.6 rpg. He has also led the series in steals (15) and ranks only behind LeBron James in the PIE rankings with a 21.1 percent score.

Paul Millsap: On the other side of the Pacers-Hawks matchup, Millsap has been the dominant force for Atlanta. We always knew that Millsap had to play big if the Hawks were to challenge the Pacers and with 20.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg and 2.0 bpg, Millsap has done just that. But Millsap’s biggest bonus is that his ability to shoot from long range allows Atlanta to space the floor and force Indiana’s big men away from the rim, a key factor for the Hawks’ success in this series.

LeBron James: No surprises here as James proved why he is the greatest player in the world all over again. James shot 55.7 percent from the field, averaged 30.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 6.0 apg and 2.3 apg as the Heat swept the Bobcats in four straight, without breaking too much of a sweat. The Bobcats simply had no answer for James, who led the series in scoring, assists (tied with Kemba Walker) and steals averages.

DeMar DeRozan: This has been the series where we are witness to DeRozan’s emergence as a genuine superstar. After he went just 3-for-13 for 14 points in the Raptors’ Game 1 loss, DeRozan has posted numbers of 30, 30, 24 and 23 points, thereby pushing the Nets to the brink of elimination. DeRozan has been unafraid to attack the basket, earning 61 free-throw attempts in the series, which is nearly twice as many as his teammate Kyle Lowry (33) has.

Bradley Beal: There were quite a few Wizards players who impressed in this series – John Wall, Trevor Ariza and Nene. But what clinches Beal’s spot on this list is that despite his age, the 20-year-old Wizards’ guard has shown rare maturity and poise while playing against a difficult opponent like Chicago. Over five games, Beal averaged 19.8 ppg, the best by any player in the series while also shooting 45.5 percent from three-point land.