Often the best players on the court, stars like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce do not always hold the key to their team's success in the postseason. It is the supporting players' play that decides a series and gives way for their team's success.
Some more important than others, these players are likely the most vital to their team's advancement in the playoffs—outside of the obvious.
Richard Hamilton, Chicago
The Chicago Bulls have fallen victim to vital injuries, and now look to other options to become the heart and soul of the team. Derrick Rose is out for the playoffs with a torn ACL, and Joakim Noah will miss at least Game 4, but likely longer, with a badly sprained ankle.
During the regular season, Rose led the team in scoring and assists while Noah led in rebounds and blocks. As you can see, the injuries have left glaring voids in the roster.
Rip Hamilton has become the key factor in the Bulls' success, and must carry this team on his shoulders to lead them past the Philadelphia 76ers.
While Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng will be important both rebounding and scoring to help alleviate the loss of Noah, Hamilton has the daunting task of replacing Rose's ability to drive within the teeth of the defense and create shots for himself or his teammates.
If Hamilton can even somewhat compensate the loss of Rose as he did during the 27-game absence of the Bulls' star, Chicago will still find themselves battling back from a 3-1 series deficit. If not, the injuries will prove too much to overcome and the Chicago fan base will see their team's chances at a championship squander.
Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles
So far during the NBA Playoffs, Andrew Bynum has arguably replaced Kobe Bryant as the team's most important player.
In the first three games versus the Denver Nuggets, Bynum has a combined 34 rebounds, 14 blocks and 55 points—registering a triple-double in the first game of the series with an amazing 10 blocks.
For most of the season, Bynum has been a key player for the Los Angeles Lakers, but the first half of Game 3 against Denver proved just how important Bynum is.
Held scoreless through the first half, Bynum and the Lakers entered halftime down 16 points. Upon starting the third quarter, Bynum would bring the Lakers back into the game with all of his 18 points coming in the second half.
Although Los Angeles still lost the game, Bynum's play in the second half was the sole reason for the Lakers even climbing back into contention. Even if Bryant averages over 30 points a game, the Lakers' success will come through their center.
Josh Smith, Atlanta
After Josh Smith missed the third game of the series on Friday with a knee injury, Amalie Benjamin of the Boston Globe reports that Smith will likely play on Sunday.
Smith was clearly missed both offensively and on the boards, as the Hawks watched the Celtics' Kevin Garnett collect 13 rebounds and score 20 points without much opposition.
Through the first two games of the series, Smith averaged 19 points and 15 rebounds. On the season, he has averaged just shy of a double-double with 18.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.
Having Smith on the floor gives Joe Johnson help on the scoreboard, as well as a player capable of creating second chances with his rebounding. If Atlanta looks to advance to the second round, they must have a healthy Smith playing good basketball.
Glen Davis, Orlando
With Dwight Howard having season-ending surgery, Glen Davis has stepped up his game for the Orlando Magic and must continue to do so in order to advance to Round 2.
In four games against the Indiana Pacers, Davis has averaged 20 points and just under 10 rebounds per game. Though the defensive presence is not that of Howard, Davis has been able to produce offensively very effectively at the center position in his place.
Down 3-1 in the series, it will take more than Davis' great play to come back and win, but it will not be possible without Davis scoring and grabbing rebounds.
Averaging only nine points and five rebounds per game, Davis has stepped it up in the playoffs and become one of the keys to Orlando's hopeful success.