Power Ranking the Most Clutch Players in the 2012 NBA Playoffs Right Now

Roy Burton@thebslineContributor IMay 16, 2012

Power Ranking the Most Clutch Players in the 2012 NBA Playoffs Right Now

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    The mismatches that we saw in the first round of the NBA playoffs are a thing of the past—games will be far more intense from here on out.

    That intensity will lead to close battles, and as such, the team whose stars come through in the clutch will likely walk away the victors.

    Even though the postseason is less than three weeks old, we've already seen a number of the league's best shine in crunch time—just as they did in the regular season. So with the conference semifinals just starting to get rolling, let's take a look at the five most clutch performers in the 2012 NBA playoffs so far.

5) Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat

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    LeBron James has carried much of the load for the Miami Heat in the playoffs, but that doesn't mean that Dwyane Wade hasn't had his share of late-game heroics this postseason.

    Wade combined with James to score 42 of Miami's 53 points in Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday and shot better than 50 percent from mid-range in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks in the first round.

    Wade has three game-winning shots this year, and with James on the wing, Wade is perhaps the most dangerous No. 2 option in the Association.

4) James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    James Harden is the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award, but he consistently finds himself out on the court when the game is in the balance in the fourth quarter.

    And with good reason. Harden's 15-point fourth-quarter performance in Game 4 of Oklahoma City's first-round series against the Dallas Mavericks allowed the Thunder to pull off an improbable sweep of the defending champions.

    Alongside Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, Harden gives Thunder coach Scott Brooks three fantastic options in late-game situations.

3) Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics

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    Aside from a moving screen at the end of Game 2 against Philadelphia on Monday, Kevin Garnett has keyed the Boston Celtics' crunch-time offense for the better part of the past week.

    In the last three fourth quarters that the Celtics have played, Garnett has scored a total of 28 points. Boston is 2-1 in those games and nearly took the third were it not for the aforementioned offensive foul.

    With two of the 76ers' better big men slowed by injuries (Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young), expect Garnett to keep up his stellar play for the foreseeable future.

2) LeBron James, Miami Heat

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    Chris Bosh's strained abdominal muscle left the Miami Heat short-handed, so all LeBron James did on Sunday was score 16 fourth-quarter points to help his team beat the Pacers in the series-opener of their Eastern Conference semis.

    This is old hat for James, who did virtually the same thing in Game 3 of the Heat's first-round series against the New York Knicks (17 fourth-quarter points).

    Forget the missed free throws from Tuesday night, James has officially shed the "not clutch" label that has dogged him for most of his career.

    The only thing left on James' to-do list is to capture an NBA crown.

1) Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Very few players in the NBA are as clutch in late-game situations as Chris Paul, a man who single-handedly led the Los Angeles Clippers to just their third playoff series win in franchise history.

    Against the Memphis Grizzlies in the opening round, Paul shot 60 percent from the field in "clutch" situations (within the final five minutes of the game and neither team leading by more than five points).

    "For me," said Paul when asked about his success with the game on the line, "it's all about the right now and trying to seize the moment."