The 2012 NBA Playoffs have given way to some key members of the league to step forward and take the reins of their franchises moving deeper into the postseason.
Players like Rajon Rondo and LeBron James have made it obvious that they are standing at the head of their teams clearing the way to victory. Without them, it is even more apparent that neither Boston nor Miami would be in the position they are right now.
These are not the only players left in the playoffs that stand out as the major components of their team’s success. Each franchise comes equipped with a pivotal player that the outcome of a series lives or dies by.
Jrue Holiday came out against the Boston Celtics at full force and guess what? The Philadelphia 76ers came away with a win just after Kevin Garnett’s exposure of Philly fans and Allen Iverson’s return to Wells Fargo Center in Pennsylvania.
The Philly crowd had been revitalized and looked nothing like the fairweather fans Garnett claimed them to be. The fans were right behind their team and it seemed like exactly what Holiday needed to get his head back into the series.
If the Sixers are looking to push forward to the Eastern Conference Finals, Holiday needs to play just as he did in Game 6. Holiday put up 15 shots with 20 points, two points more than the 18 he posted in Philly’s Game 2 win against Boston.
Holiday was just hauling up three-pointers hoping for them to land somewhere around the rim. He was attacking Boston in the mid-range game and up, close and personal with the basket. Holiday got to the foul line six times, hitting each attempt for a 100% free throw percentage on the night.
For the 76ers to continue through the playoffs, Holiday cannot take a night. He cannot revert back to the less-aggressive version of himself. The 76ers need him creating those easy buckets for his teammates around the rim as well as generating his own offense in order to win.
In Game 6, the Boston Celtics allowed the Sixers to force a Game 7.
While the expectancy was that the C’s would go to Philly and close out the series, Rajon Rondo was almost non-existent offensively and this was a hard slap in the face for coach Doc Rivers.
Rondo is Boston’s engine and that was made apparent while Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett kept up their end of the deal by scoring 44 points, collectively, and grabbing 21 of Boston’s 48 rebounds. Pierce and Garnett were the reason why Boston stayed in the game.
However, it was Rondo’s absence that led to Boston’s loss. When the Celtics’ general is playing in sync with the rest of his soldiers, Rondo melts through defense. With such excellent court vision and the ability to draw the defense, he creates so many easy looks for both Garnett and Pierce’s hot spots.
He did not even register a double-double, which has become almost as consistent as his appearances in Boston’s starting lineup.
The Celtics' Big 3 has shifted to include Rondo and exempt Ray Allen, and the franchise functions better that way. Allen comes off the bench very well, as he did in the latter fraction of the season.
Rondo is what makes this franchise move in a forward motion and without his strongest efforts, Boston’s core is left to fend for themselves. Fans saw how that took on a benevolent tone in last year’s playoffs against the Miami Heat.
The Boston Celtics cannot afford for him to be absent in spirit and production.
According to Jeff McDonald of Spurs Nation, Kevin Durant is not the man that Tony Parker has his tunnel vision focused. The head of the snake, by word of Parker, is Russell Westbrook. If you ask anyone else in the Thunder franchise, after the last two series Oklahoma City have won against the Lakers and the Mavericks, they will echo this belief.
Fans see Durant as the strongest influence over the Thunder because of his ability to score and improving defensive skill. On Kobe Bryant, Durant used his length to give the Black Mamba plenty of trouble on those clean floaters and jumpers that he usually drops.
It is still Westbrook that injects his franchise with a shot of adrenaline while leading the team down the floor on a fastbreak or using his otherworldly athleticism to throw up an impossible and-1 after a steal.
Westbrook is so affluent in Oklahoma City because of how multi-dimensional he is naturally. He is a solid shooter and a great slasher with supreme athleticism and court vision to couple with his eye for the defensive opportunity.
Westbrook takes a lot of gambles throughout games that would normally be more miss than hit for a lot of points in the league.
Durant is still the leader of the Thunder and Westbrook knows that. However, when it comes to picking the Thunder apart from the inside-out, Parker understands that it all starts with taking Westbrook out of his lane.
Tony Parker was mentioned throughout the season in the MVP race and he has held up his end of the bargain throughout the postseason by leading the Spurs through two series sweeps against the Los Angeles Clippers and the Utah Jazz.
Recently added players like Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green have something to do with the Spurs’ success as does both Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Parker is so incredibly lethal because he knows exactly where to hit a team, even if he is having a night that is not so offensively sound.
In Game 1 against the Los Angeles Clippers, Parker only scored seven points on 1-of-9 field goal shooting. Parker found another way to impact the game, however. He dished out eleven assists.
Manu Ginobili said it best after Parker’s frustrations were made apparent, according to ESPN.
"He didn't score, but he got 11 assists," Ginobili said. "That's who we are. Sometimes it's not going to be him."
Sometimes the offense is not going to ooze from Parker’s fingers. Still, franchises should never make the mistake of believing that they will be able to alleviate Parker from a game. His psyche will not allow him to be defeated in all areas of his game.
In the 17 minutes of that game while Parker, Ginobili and Tim Duncan were on the floor together, the Clippers were held to 7-of-31 shooting and outscored by the Spurs by 21 points. That speaks volumes about what Parker contributes both offensively and defensively to the Spurs’ overall game.
LeBron James is the Miami Heat’s driving force.
When Dwyane Wade needed assistance repairing the perception of his game after a poor Game 3 performance of five points, James was there to will his teammate and best friend back to stardom. After getting a few easy looks, courtesy of LeBron, Wade has officially been reinstated as a standing member of Miaimi’s Big 3.
It was a title that had been distorted by him behaving so uncharacteristically on and off the court. James was right there to pull his friend back into the mix.
Now, both he and Wade are Indiana’s worst nightmares as they are finding ways to do whatever they please in the low post. Wade’s acrobatics alone are enough to give the Pacers daunting nightmares.
However, LeBron has not only gotten Wade back on track. Shane Battier has been constantly fed throughout the series in hopes that he would get his hot hand back. In Game 5, Battier had arrived and those aspirations came to fruition.
Battier hit on 4-of-5 of his three-ball attempts. Three of those makes were assisted by LeBron James.
Then you look at the other end of the court as his defense, which has been startling and has earned him a berth on the NBA All-Defensive First Team as the only player with a vote on every ballot.
James is the best all-around player in the league right now as his team’s best defensive and offensive option.
The Heat do not run without him.