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:
Portland Trailblazers: C.J. McCollum
McCollum in Wins: 23.2 PPG, 46.8% FG, 46.2% 3P, 1.16 PPP, 1.06 PPPA
McCollum in Losses: 19.7 PPG, 42.2% FG, 31.9% 3P, 1.00 PPP, 1.17 PPPA
C.J. McCollum is one of the more high profile difference makers I’ve identified in this article series, but look at the difference in McCollum’s production. More scoring on a significantly more efficient shooting clip with drastic per possession differences too. Teams are going to look to shut down Damian Lillard on offense, and it will be up to McCollum to keep the engine running offensively. Defensively, teams like New Orleans and Golden State who have guards that are bigger than McCollum (6’4″ Jrue Holiday, 6’7″ Klay Thompson, etc.) are going to attack him. Whether or not McCollum can slow them down is key. Portland put up the league’s 8th best defense this season. They are capable of buckling down, but the playoffs are a different animal. McCollum has been here before, what will he do this time?