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:
Minnesota Timberwolves: Taj Gibson
Gibson in Wins: 13.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 62.6% FG, 28.6% 3P, 1.34 PPP, 1.09 PPPA
Gibson in Losses: 10.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 52.8% FG, 7.7% 3P,1.08 PPP, 1.19 PPPA
Taj Gibson has been an underrated and important player for Minnesota this season. Gibson was 3rd on Minnesota in win shares, and 2nd in rebounds and offensive rating. He has been a solid veteran holding together a young front court with Andrew Wiggins and Karl Towns. That being said, Gibson’s efficiency has varied from decent in losses to high in wins. Gibson is also scoring and rebounding more in wins. What most jaw dropping is Gibson’s 134 points per 100 possessions in the wins vs. the 108 in losses. Gibson has a lethal mid range game that Houston’s analytics based defense isn’t geared to defend against. Nobody is giving Minnesota a chance anyways, but Gibson has to be someone that is on during the series for them to even have one.