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:
San Antonio Spurs: Everybody not named LaMarcus Aldridge
I wish I was kidding. LaMarcus Aldridge has been phenomenal this season with averages of 23.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game on 50.9% shooting. After Aldridge, since Kawhi Leonard missed all but 9 games, the Spurs’ next highest scorer is Rudy Gay off the bench with 11.1 per game.
The problem has been the three point shooting. Leonard made excellent improvement to his three point shot for last season, but this season, the Spurs have completely lacked perimeter shooting – currently standing at 28th in the NBA in three pointers per 100 possessions, 26th in three point attempts, and 25th out of 30 teams in percentage from deep. What’s truly astonishing, however, is the difference in their shooting between wins and losses:
|Player||3P % in Wins||3P % in Losses||Difference|
If the Spurs had more consistency shooting the ball, they might have won more games this season, but if they have it during the playoffs, maybe they can surprise teams and make a run. Golden State is definitely beatable without Stephen Curry, even if they are not when they have him healthy. San Antonio has an opportunity here. Will they capitalize?