The first round of the playoffs has commenced. The main highlight are teams that get the best of seven and move forward, though the playoffs are also home to historical performances by individuals. Listed below are five players who threaten their team’s opponent in stuffing the stat sheet, and earning their team wins along the way:
Giannis Antetokounmpo vs Toronto
Even before game one against the Toronto Raptors, Bucks fans knew Giannis was going to be a problem for a back court focused team. DeRozan thrives in the paint, but defensively the Raptors can’t defend below the post, especially when it’s someone as long as the Greek Freak. Saturday night in Game 1, Giannis made a statement early, dunking on three of the five starting Raptors before halftime. He would go on to finish with: 28 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block through the end of four.
A switch in the defensive rotation will be necessary if they plan on slowing down Giannis (just a suggestion). PJ Tucker has proven time and time again that he is an excellent defender and arguably best suited for the role down the stretch.
Mike Conley vs San Antonio
The San Antonio Spurs are a dynasty in today’s NBA, but with long term success comes another factor, age. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli aren’t the same dynamic and quick guards they once were. With either of them switching off to guard Conley, I’d give him a 50% chance to make the basket under defense. Nothing against the four-time NBA champions, but Conley is a scoring first guard in his prime who is very dangerous when left open.
Parker turned back the clock a little last night, but Memphis will be ready for that come Game 2. Conley didn’t put on a star performance but still finished with: 13 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals in the loss. If this series stretches to seven games, Pop can’t count on Parker to produce like he did last night. The Memphis Grizzlies however, can certainly count on Captain Clutch.
LeBron James vs Indiana
Time and time again, James has been a riddle the Pacers cannot solve. Regardless of the score and the tight window through which the Cavaliers escaped in Game 1, LeBron was on fire. Comparably, James and George (his primary defender) went toe to toe, but it was the King who came out with a 60% shooting percentage and a near triple-double.
Paul George cannot be held solely under blame for James’ performance. After all, they say no one is more dangerous then the King in playoff mode. At the end of Game 1, James finished with: 32 points, 13 rebounds (!), 6 assists, and 3 steals. Expect nothing less from him as the series continues.
Dwight Howard vs Washington
A close knit series, Washington and Atlanta is really up for grabs. Game 1 will give us our first impression on how the two teams fare in comparison, but Dwight Howard is the X-Factor. Washington holds the regular season series, 3-1. Though he is averaging 14 points and just under 15 rebounds (14.75) against the Wizards, the Hawks will need more from him to pull out this series.
All in all, Dwight Howard is a rebounding presence the Wizards don’t have. Gortat plays the five well and fits the Washington offense, but nothing hides the extra 25 pounds Howard is packing in the post. In their most recent game against the Hawks, Howard outrebounded Gortat, 15-6. Washington would go on to win, that kind of effort from Howard, could provide a problem with no solution for the Wizards.
Russell Westbrook vs Houston
The Oklahoma City Thunder went 6-4 in their last ten games of the regular season, and Westbrook is scorching hot. An excellent defender on Harden, and the primary source of offense for the Thunder, Westbrook could be solely responsible for a series win should they pull it out.
Here’s a look at the MVP competitors previous pairings:
- Harden: 20.5 points, 12.3 assists, and 7.3 rebounds on 34% shooting(!)
- Russell: 36.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 9 assists on 47% shooting.
As you can see, unlike when facing Durant, Westbrook thrives against this former teammate and fellow MVP contender. Oklahoma has only beaten Houston once this season, but when Russ is on a mission there’s not many that can stand in his way. A five-way player who can pass, block, rebound, or especially score at any given time, Westbrook is they key for Houston’s downfall.
All stats and information provided by ESPN and NBA.com. Featured image provided by Yahoo Sports.