NBA Playoffs: What Players Are Clicking at the Right Time?

Ron Pasceri@@RonPasceriCorrespondent IIMay 15, 2012

NBA Playoffs: What Players Are Clicking at the Right Time?

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    It's May and the second round of the NBA playoffs are creeping ever closer.

    Six teams have already punched their tickets with four more battling it out for the final two spots.  One of the things playoff basketball is synonymous with is clutch play.

    Sometimes that is a player who makes a game-winning shot at the buzzer or plays well late in games.  More accurately clutch play should be measured by which players raise their game to the occasion.  Not just late, not just on the last shot but throughout each series in the tournament.

    With 10 teams remaining alive to battle for an NBA title here are 15 players that are clicking at just the right time.  The time of year when it matters most.

    Obviously I haven't gotten to see every minute of every playoff game so please feel free to add your own choices or disagreements in the comments.

LeBron James, Miami Heat

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    For LeBron James the only way he can succeed is to win a championship.  Anything less will be considered a complete failure.

    His XVI mouth guard is a little contrived and his body language is still quite annoying at times but he is playing at a very high level right now.

    He will also be harshly judged for his performance in every fourth quarter throughout the postseason.  The Knicks weren't exactly a great test but LeBron has stepped it up so far.

    In the 2011 postseason James averaged 6.3 points per fourth quarter on 43 percent shooting.  Through the first five games in 2012 he is scoring 8.5 points per fourth quarter.

    His shooting is still low at 41 percent but he hit 4-of-7 from beyond the arc and is getting to the free-throw line 3.5 times as opposed to just 2.0 last year.

    The spike in free-throw attempts shows an increase in confidence and a more aggressive style.  

    LeBron can't cement his legacy in the early rounds of the playoffs but he's off to a good start.  We'll see if he's playing at the same level in a few weeks.

Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers

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    For the first time in his career Danny Granger outlasted the first round of the playoffs.  He's a very good player but the jury is out on whether he is a franchise guy.

    He is on the road to proving himself after a first-round destruction of the Orlando Magic.  After terrible performances in games one and two, Granger really found his rhythm. 

    In the final three games of the series he averaged 24.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while shooting 42 percent on threes.

    For the series as a whole, despite shooting just 34 percent in the first two games, he is putting up 21.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.  He is also leading the playoffs in three-point field goals.

    Granger is facing a huge test in round two against Miami.  He has a great opportunity to to prove himself against the best competition.  If he continues to light it up from outside he may show he is among the game's elite.

Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers

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    Roy Hibbert isn't a household name and may seem out of place on this list.  He is a 7'2" center, though, who can actually play.

    Orlando was definitely overmatched without Dwight Howard and Hibbert was able to exploit that weakness.

    He had double-digit rebounds in four games out of five, averaging 10.8 per game.  He also chipped in with 11.0 points per game on 54 percent shooting from the field.

    Hibbert was a monster on defense with 19 blocks in the series.  He registered at least two blocked shots in each of the five games against the Magic.

    Next up is the Heat which is no easy task.  If anyone remembers the 2011 NBA Finals, you will remember the problems Tyson Chandler posed to Miami's offensive attack.  

    Hibbert is not as good defensively as Chandler but he can pose similar problems to LeBron and Dwayne Wade.

Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics

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    Many NBA fans outside of the New England area have been discussing the "old legs" of the Boston Celtics.  After a dreadful 74-point performance in the game one loss to Atlanta it seemed to be proving true.

    Paul Pierce was 5-of-19 in that game with just 12 points.  Two days later he ravaged the Hawks for 36 points in a bounce back victory.

    Since the disastrous first game of the series Pierce has averaged 23.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.  He is shooting a sizzling 45 percent on threes and 89 percent from the foul line.

    Perhaps even bigger than his scoring output, Pierce came up huge on the defensive end.

    Holding a two-point lead late in game six, Joe Johnson attempted to take Pierce off the dribble.  He got the the basket but Pierce swatted away his layup attempt, preserving the precious lead.

    He is playing on a partially torn MCL but he's still gutting it out on both ends.  Paul Pierce isn't 100 percent and he isn't young but he is playing some great basketball.

Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics

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    Kevin Garnett was another Celtics player thought to have lost it.  He was actually productive in game one with 20 points and 12 rebounds but he shot just 42 percent from the field.

    He isn't the KG of old but he still exhibits the same KG-type qualities that helped Boston win a title.

    He is selfless, defense-first and intense.  He displays a legendary level of intensity, an act that has worn thin with many NBA players and fans.  As insufferable as he is to many, he is still beloved by his teammates and the Boston faithful.

    As much as he has aged and worn down he had one of the best playoff games of his career in the series clincher.  He scored 28 points and grabbed 14 rebounds with five blocks and three steals.

    Boston lost control of the game with Garnett on the bench but his turnaround jumper with 31 seconds remaining gave Boston a lead they would never relinquish.

    If Garnett can continue to play anywhere near that level, Boston could be in for a long playoff run.

Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Andre Iguodala is not a popular Philadelphia athlete.  It's not that fans think he is a bad player but he carries himself as if he's a star and he just isn't.  

    He averaged 12.4 points per game in the regular season while guarding the opposing teams best perimeter player every night.  The defense is great but he shrunk in the biggest moments all season.

    In the final five minutes of games within five points Iguodala hit just 39 percent of his free-throws.  He only made 62 percent on the season.

    In the first round against Chicago Iguodala made up for poor field-goal shooting with improved accuracy from the line.  He shot 78.9 percent in the series including 9-of-10 in the final five minutes of games within five points.

    For good measure, he nailed two free-throws with 2.2 seconds remaining to give the Sixers a 79-78 win and clinch the series.

    He also did it while holding Luol Deng to 14.0 points per game in the series.  Next up: Paul Pierce.

Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs

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    With Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili slowing down Tony Parker has become the Spurs' best player.

    In leading the Spurs to a dominating sweep of the Utah Jazz he gave his teammates an opportunity to rest up for tougher series' to come.

    Parker owned this ugly series, averaging 21.0 points and 6.5 assists.  He shot 50 percent from the field and 79 percent from the free-throw line.

    If you take out a shaky game four performance his numbers rise to 24.3 points and 7.7 assists, shooting 57 percent from the field and 88 percent from the line.

    The high point of his series may have come in his 16-point fourth quarter outburst in game three.  It gave the Spurs a 3-0 series lead and effectively ended it.  

    Parker is in the midst of his best pro season and he appears to be getting even better.

Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    When you watch Kevin Durant you half expect him to go for 40 points and shoot the lights out.  Scoring has become synonymous with Durant in his short career.  He hasn't exactly done that yet in the playoffs.

    Why is he on the list if he isn't scoring the way he's capable of?  He's on the list because he is becoming a more complete player.  Durant has learned how to affect the game in multiple facets.

    He is still scoring, averaging 26.5 points per game, but his shot has struggled a bit.  

    He is, however, averaging 7.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists and he had seven blocked shots and four steals in the sweep of the Mavericks.

    It also doesn't hurt that he hit the game-winning shot in game one.  Kevin Durant probably hasn't even played his best basketball yet in the postseason which should scare whoever faces the Thunder the rest of the way. 

James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook get most of the attention for the Thunder for obvious reasons.  James Harden isn't too far behind, though.

    His most recent publicity came from being concussed by Metta World Peace and being named the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year.

    Someone wins the sixth man trophy every year but Harden is right up there with the best sixth men in recent memory.  Everyone remembers what Jason Terry did a year ago and Harden can match it.

    Harden's numbers for the series look good for a sub.  He's putting up 18.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.5 steals per game.  He is shooting 50 percent from the field, 46 percent on threes and 87 percent from the line.

    What's more impressive is that after a few games to get his legs under him after the concussion, Harden blew it up in game four.

    He went for 29 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals on 11-of-16 shooting, including 3-of-4 on threes.  He scored 15 of those points in the fourth quarter to close out the series.

Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Kobe Bryant is a legend.  He is probably the best NBA player in the post-Jordan era.  He has five rings and he's hoping to get his sixth.  He isn't getting any younger and this is probably his last great chance to do it.

    Even if this isn't his last great chance he's certainly playing like it is.

    After holding what seemed to be a comfortable 3-1 series lead the Lakers have dropped two straight games as Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum appear to have fallen off the face of the earth.

    In the two losses Bryant averaged 37.0 points per game.  While his "Stomach Flu Game" wasn't nearly as legendary as MJ's "Flu Game" he still scored 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting.

    Kobe may not be the same player he was even two years ago but he is giving everything he's got.  If he can get just a little help from his friends the Lakers should advance,  If not, well, he needs to find a way to do it himself.

Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Chris Paul came to Los Angeles to win.  The Clippers don't appear ready to win a title but they are poised to win their first playoff series as "Lob City."

    Paul has simply been the best an most consistent player on the team in this series.  His assists are down from the regular season but his scoring, rebounding and three-point shooting are up.

    In the series he is averaging 22.6 points, 7.8 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game.  He has two 11-assist games along with three games with at least four steals.

    Blake Griffin's flopping and injury have gotten the most attention for the Clippers, but the team will only go as far as Chris Paul takes them.

    He is playing like he wants to take them pretty far.  With Memphis swinging back in game five, expect Paul to be at his best going forward.