NBA Superstars Rising to the Occasion in 2013 Playoffs

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistApril 27, 2013

NBA Superstars Rising to the Occasion in 2013 Playoffs

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    The NBA playoffs are a time when superstars are supposed to rise to the occasion. Whether it be offensively or defensively, these studs are counted upon to shoulder the burden for their respective teams.

    As stars both young and old shine, there's no denying that the 2013 postseason is one that will be defined by the play of the league's elite.

    With legacies on the line, it's time to take a look at which stars are helping their cause with strong performances in the early going.

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are from Basketball-Reference.

Paul George

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    Recently crowned the NBA's Most Improved Player, Paul George has used the postseason as a personal stage to show that he belongs in the league's superstar conversation.

    After triple-doubling (23 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds) in Game 1 of the Indiana Pacers' series against the Atlanta Hawks, George came back in Game 2 with another stellar outing.

    Playing a game-high 39 minutes, George posted 27 points (11-of-21 shooting), eight rebounds and four steals.

    Firmly established as the Pacers' go-to option on the offensive end, George has also played a crucial role in setting the tone for his team defensively.

    Thus far against the Hawks, George has allowed just 99 points per 100 possessions when he's been on the floor, the highest such mark among Pacers starters.

James Harden

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    James Harden hasn't been scoring with his trademark efficiency in the playoffs, but that doesn't mean he hasn't risen to the occasion for the Houston Rockets.

    The Rockets' leading scorer through two games, Harden helped lead Houston on a 21-2 run in Game 2 before falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder by just three points.

    The focal point of the Rockets offense, Harden is averaging 28 points and 8.5 rebounds thus far against his former team in the playoffs.

    In addition, Harden's usage rate has ticked up to 32.6 percent, more than three points better than his regular-season average and nine points better than his usage during the 2012 postseason with the Thunder.

    Although his shot hasn't been falling with regularity (shooting 34.9 percent from the field), Harden has been aggressive. He has gone to the line 13.5 times per game, hitting on 88.9 percent of his attempts.

Stephen Curry

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    Stephen Curry was born for big moments. First, he hit a game-tying corner three in the waning seconds of an eventual Game 1 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

    Then, in Game 2, it was Curry who exploded for a game-high 30 points on 13-of-23 shooting (4-of-10 from three) in a 131-117 Golden State victory.

    Running off those patented Golden State screens, Curry was hitting on 40 percent of his three-point attempts through two games.

    Game 3 was a similar story for Curry. He led the Warriors in scoring (29 points), dropping in four of seven attempts from beyond the arc. He even hit a running left-handed hook shot. To put things simply, there's no shot the guy can't hit.

    One of the few first-round surprises thus far, Curry's steady scoring has the Warriors leading the Nuggets 2-1 and eying a possible upset.

Tim Duncan

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    It defies logic. At age 37, Tim Duncan should not be nearly as productive as he's been in the San Antonio Spurs' first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Unlike Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, who have feasted on an undermanned Lakers backcourt, Duncan has battled against Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol night after night.

    As has come to be expected, Duncan has flourished and now has the Spurs primed to sweep the injury-plagued Lakers.

    The ageless wonder burned the Lakers for 16.5 points and 7.5 rebounds over the series' first two games, and he exceeded that pace in Game 3.

    Scoring 26 points (on 12-of-16 shooting) and grabbing nine rebounds in Game 3, Duncan showed that he's playing with purpose, proving the Spurs should be considered favorites in the Western Conference after Russell Westbrook's injury.

    What he lacks in flash and flair, Duncan makes up for in consistency. Regardless of age, if there's one player you need to put up a double-double in a key spot, Duncan's your man.

Chris Paul

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    Were it not for Chris Paul's late-game heroics, the Los Angeles Clippers could very well be in a 2-1 series hole.

    Paul's borderline impossible game-winner over the notoriously stingy Tony Allen was the icing on top of a fabulous Game 2 performance.

    One game after pacing the Clippers over the Memphis Grizzlies by scoring a game-high 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting, Paul came back with an equally impressive performance that momentarily dashed the Grizzlies' playoff hopes.

    Although Paul struggled to get on track in Game 3, his 24 points and nine assists in Game 2 gave the Clippers a needed cushion over the NBA's preeminent defensive squad.

    For the series, Paul has posted a PER of 26, shooting 51.3 percent from the field en route to 18.3 points per game.

Carmelo Anthony

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    The Boston Celtics have held the New York Knicks below 100 points in each of the series' first three games, but that hasn't stopped Carmelo Anthony from getting his.

    The league's scoring champion, Anthony leads all scorers in the postseason, averaging 32 points per game. If it wasn't clear already, the Knicks are insanely dependent on Anthony's production.

    A career-high usage rate of 35.6 percent during the regular season was indicative of the Knicks' dependency on Anthony. For better or worse, that number has increased in the postseason.

    Through two games, Anthony's usage rate was a staggering 39.6 percent.

    Against an offensively challenged group like the Celtics, the Knicks are fortunate to have a volume scorer like Anthony on their side.

LeBron James

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    Nothing to see here. Just your run-of-the-mill playoff performance from LeBron James.

    Through three games against the Milwaukee Bucks, James has posted some gaudy and, quite frankly, predictable numbers.

    Since we've been exposed to James playing at this level for an extended period now, averages of 22.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists seem almost pedestrian.

    Although it's easy to become desensitized to LeBron's greatness, keep an eye out for one number in particular: James' field-goal percentage.

    Through three games against the Bucks, James has shot 61.5 percent from the field. That's more than 11 points better than his field-goal percentage during the 2012 postseason, which was lauded as a major turning point in terms of James' efficiency.

    While 60 percent shooting may be hard to sustain over an entire postseason, there's no doubting that James is capable of coming close to accomplishing such a feat.