The First Round of the NBA Playoffs was legendary and one of the best in years, as five out of the eight series went to a decisive Game 7. Five talented teams have gone fishing for now, but not before putting up a fight. This season is surely not the last we will hear from any of these teams, as all will come back with a vengeance next year. The following players made major contributions to help their teams reach entertaining Game 7s (sorry Bobcats, Rockets and Bulls fans).
By playing big-man shooter Pero Antic to spread the floor and take defensive beast Roy Hibbert out of the paint, the Atlanta Hawks went to a slash-and-kick game and bombarded as many 3s as possible in an effort to take down the top-seeded Indiana Pacers. The team averaged a whopping 32.9 3PA per contest, and sharpshooter Kyle Korver, who made a reliable 3.3 out of 7.7 3PA per contest, spearheaded the attack. Korver’s willingness to shoot the three ball also created more opportunities for long rebounds, which allowed Atlanta, lacking its inside presence in Al Horford, to compete better for boards and loose balls.
Although his traditional stats may not stand out, Amir Johnson’s value to the Toronto Raptors can be partially quantified through advanced stats. Johnson is top ten in the league in real plus-minus, which measures a player’s impact on both offense and defense on the floor. Yet, advanced stats are still not enough to fully capture Johnson’s impact, and one must watch him play to truly recognize his importance. Defensively, Johnson uses his length and leverage to make life difficult for the men he is defending, while offensively his great rebounding position will lead to either his own put-backs or opportunities for his teammates to garner an extra possession.
Jose Calderon is an unselfish point guard with a high basketball IQ, good court vision, a great jump shot and excellent passing skills. Calderon’s presence on the court opened up the floor for his teammates, as the San Antonio Spurs had to respect his 3-point shot and he made them pay with 1.6 3PM per game. Apart from his shooting, Calderon is also a great passer. Although his assists were down to just 4.4 this postseason, Calderon is a master of the hockey assist, the pass that leads to the assist. His ability to move the ball well and hit the open jumper was an integral part in the Dallas Mavericks’ offensive efficiency these playoffs.
Commentators always rave about Draymond Green’s intangibles – his heart, hustle, and overall ability to make winning plays. This series, Green proved that he is not just Mr. Intangibles. He was in the top ten in blocks (1.7) and steals (1.7), and contested rebounds per game (3.9), and filled the stat sheet in Game 7 with 24 points, 7 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Green played so well during the series, that Coach Mark Jackson had no choice but to insert him into the starting lineup from Game 4 onwards, playing the stretch-four and opening up space for the Splash Brothers and David Lee to operate.
While Mike Conley can both dish and take the ball — he was third in the playoffs in both assists (7.9) and in steals (2.0) — Conley’s true importance to this team was his levelheadedness and composure in orchestrating the Memphis Grizzlies offense. In a series full of clutch moments, Conley shined when the lights got brighter. Whether he ended up driving and dishing, driving and kicking, driving and scoring, or simply spotting up for the kick-out shot, Conley was always involved in the Grizzlies clutch offensive plays.