Sunday will feature two games to kick off the second round of the NBA playoffs, and each team that is playing has a certain player that will be critical to their success.
Sure, all eyes will be on guys like Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, but there are other guys on each squad that can change the course of a game by heating up at the right time. Each team needs a particular player to step up on Sunday in order to help their team win.
Here is a breakdown of the X-factor for each team that is playing on Sunday.
Indiana Pacers: Lance Stephenson, SG
The Pacers have played very well this year as a team, even without Danny Granger. They have played well with guys like Paul George and David West stepping up to help.
Stephenson has stepped up in Granger’s absence as well, and he has been a solid contributor to the team all season. In the first round, he averaged 7.8 points per game and added 8.0 rebounds per contest to go along with 4.3 assists.
The defense from Stephenson has been impressive as well. According to Basketball-Reference.com, his defensive rating has improved to 96 in the playoffs from 101 in the regular season.
Almost all of the attention will go to the other starters for the Pacers when the play the Knicks, so Stephenson will need to find ways to get open and make shots. If he can do that, the Pacers will be in much better shape.
New York Knicks: Iman Shumpert, SF
He might have some crazy hair, but Shumpert is a very solid player. In fact, he’s looked pretty good so far for the Knicks in the playoffs.
In the six-game series against the Boston Celtics, Shumpert averaged 9.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 45.2 percent from the field. During the regular season, he only averaged 6.8 points and 3.0 rebounds per game while shooting only 39.6 percent.
The Knicks were glad to have Shumpert in Game 6 against the Celtics, as he helped seal the deal for the team. He finished the game with 17 points and six rebounds on 6-for-9 shooting, and he was also 3-for-3 from behind the arc.
The Knicks need more playmakers besides J.R. Smith and Carmelo, and Shumpert showed that he could make some plays in the last series. He had 10 three-pointers in the first round, and could have even more in the series against the Pacers. He will need to look for shots from behind the arc in order to give his team a lift.
Memphis Grizzlies: Tony Allen, SF
The Grizzlies have a tough road ahead by going up against the Thunder in Round 2. Even without Russell Westbrook, this is a very dangerous team, and they will need to play at their best in order to advance.
One guy that’s been doing an awesome job so far in the playoffs has been Allen. After averaging only 8.9 points per game this season, he averaged 12.0 points per game in the first series.
Allen finished the first playoff series strong, finishing with 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists. He’s really stepped his game up in the playoffs, and the Grizzlies had little trouble with the Clippers because of it.
In order for the Grizzlies to advance to the conference finals, Allen will need to keep playing like he has. He’s been a major factor for the team so far, and a few more big games like he had in the first round will set the Grizzlies up nicely.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Reggie Jackson, PG
Russell Westbrook’s injury certainly hurt the Thunder, but Reggie Jackson has stepped up big.
During the regular season, Jackson played very little. He averaged 14.2 minutes and only 5.3 points per game.
It has been a completely different story for him since the injury to Westbrook, though. In the last four games, Jackson has averaged 34.5 minutes and 17.3 points per game.
Although Durant is still the star of this team, Jackson is making a name for himself with Westbrook out. The Thunder desperately needed another guy to step up, and Jackson has done just that. As long as he keeps playing like he’s Westbrook, then the team should be in pretty good shape.