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:
Oklahoma City Thunder: Carmelo Anthony
Anthony in Wins: 16.2 PPG, 42.2% FG, 38.8% 3P, 1.11 PPP, 1.07 PPPA
Anthony in Losses: 16.5 PPG, 38.4% FG, 31.1% 3P, 0.93 PPP, 1.15 PPPA
Carmelo Anthony has been a disappointment since joining the Thunder. There is no hiding that fact. Between Anthony’s volume and his efficiency, he was expected to keep one as he finally joined a helpful star loaded supporting cast with Russell Westbrook and Paul George – only that isn’t what happened. Here are just some of Anthony’s averages this season versus in prior seasons:
The difference in Anthony’s level of play also is very different between Thunder wins and losses. While I wouldn’t exactly call his play “good” in wins – no NBA superstar should ever be shooting 42.2% on a talented team like OKC – it is significantly better. What is most telling is that despite shooting 4% less from the field and getting nearly 20 less points per 100 posessions, Anthony averages more points in losses than wins. This most likely represents the idea that the Thunder lose games because of Anthony acting as a “black-hole” on offense – that when he gets the ball during a Thunder possession, he will inevitably be the one attempting the shot. Among the 13 players that played over 100 minutes for OKC this season, Anthony was also the 3rd worst defender – ahead of just Alex Abrines and rookie Terrence Ferguson. For OKC to make a Playoff run, Anthony needs to step up to the task when he is called upon, but also know when he needs to shoot versus when his team needs to run the offense.