The NBA Playoffs is a completely different animal than the regular season. Defenses are tighter, game-play is slower, and games are closer. When this occurs, anything can happen. We saw the Cavaliers upset a Warriors team that was 73-9 in 2016, last year a veteran Los Angeles Clippers team was upset by a young Utah Jazz team in its first post-season appearance since 2012.
These upsets were caused by supporting players failing to step up when the defensive attention was placed elsewhere. In 2016 it was Harrison Barnes, who averaged just 9.3 points on 35.2% shooting and 31.0% from three in 31.7 minutes per game.
In 2017, it was Chris Paul‘s back court teammates J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Austin Rivers who failed to step up. The Clippers were up 2-1 on Utah, and Blake Griffin got hurt. Instead of scrapping it out and stepping up to the moment, those three shot a combined 17/59 in all three subsequent Clipper losses – 28.8% from the field. If the right players don’t step up to the moment, then their teams will fail in the playoffs. Here are the players who need to step up this season for their teams:
Cleveland Cavaliers: J.R. Smith
Smith in Wins: 44.5% FG, 41.9% 3P, 76.5% FT, 1.11 PPP, 1.11 PPPA
Smith in Losses: 33.5% FG, 29.7% 3P, 61.1% FT, 0.85 PPP, 1.21 PPPA
J.R. Smith has been a huge part of Cleveland’s success ever since he joined the team in 2015. The team went from a .500 level team before trading for Smith to a Conference Champion the remainder of the season, and NBA Champion the next. Now that Kyrie Irving is gone, however, Smith has been relied upon for a bigger portion of the half court offense, to which he has not responded well. He is only shooting 40.2% from the field, and the Cavs are 7.4 points per 100 possessions better with him off the court. Still, when J.R. is playing engaged basketball and making shots, Cleveland wins. The difference in all of the statistical categories above is shocking.