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:
Utah Jazz: Ricky Rubio
Rubio in Wins: 14.8 PPG, 6.1 APG, 5.5 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 44.0% FG, 39.0% 3P, 1.11 PPP, 0.98 PPPA
Rubio in Losses: 10.3 PPG, 4.7 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 35.6% FG, 25.2% 3P, 0.89 PPP, 1.12 PPPA
Ricky Rubio did not replace George Hill‘s production this season, but Rubio did improve his play from his Minnesota days, and was absolutely hooping by the end of the season. From January 19th through the end of the season, Rubio averaged 15.5 points, 6.1 assists, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.5 steals on 45.2% from the field and 42.5% from three. This coincided with the Jazz going 30-7 over the course of that time after starting off 18-27. Donovan Mitchell is obviously the team’s heart and soul at this point. His star play as a rookie has been driving Utah’s success, but Rubio has been similarly effective to lead the Jazz to their success. Rubio is the primarily ball handler on the team, no matter how many points Mitchell is scoring. The Jazz need him to step up against a star loaded Thunder team.