NBA Playoffs 2013: Most Important Players on Each Surviving Team
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
As the NBA playoffs enter the heart of the conference semifinals, each team is beginning to rely on certain players that can make or break their chances of making the finals.
Nate Robinson has proven to be one of the best point guards in the playoffs.
Klay Thompson's 34-point outing in Game 2 against the San Antonio Spurs proved to be a perfect complement to Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
Those guys and several others will prove pivotal for their teams as the playoffs continue to progress.
Miami Heat: PG Norris Cole
Norris Cole may be the key to shutting down Nate Robinson.
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While Game 2 for the Miami Heat was a balanced team effort, Norris Cole was third on the team in scoring with 18 points, trailing just Ray Allen's 21 and LeBron James' 19.
Cole, who played 30 minutes on Wednesday compared to starter Mario Chalmers' 18, also played a key role in shutting down Nate Robinson.
Robinson was the main reason the Chicago Bulls won Game 1, as he scored 27 points and added nine assists.
Cole is more athletic than Chalmers despite coming off the bench. He has the ability to take pressure off of James and Wade by creating his own shot.
His defense will also be needed to stop Robinson. Plus, if Derrick Rose ends up returning, Cole may be the most qualified to deal with that.
Chicago Bulls: PG Nate Robinson
Nate Robinson has been a star in the playoffs.
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As the Bulls try to give the defending champions a run for their money, they've been riding Nate Robinson as far as he'll take them.
In Game 1, he poured in 27 points and nine assists as the Bulls shocked the Heat in Miami for a 93-86 win.
However in Game 2, Robinson struggled as he shot just 3-of-10 from the field and was limited to 11 points and two assists.
Robinson is an electrifying player. His ability to get to the basket is as good as any point guard in the league, especially at his size.
If he can bounce back from his lackluster showing in Game 2 of the conference semifinals, the Bulls may very well have a legitimate chance of knocking off the Heat.
New York Knicks: SG J.R. Smith
J.R. Smith is the X-factor in New York.
While Carmelo Anthony is certainly the guy that drives the train in New York, J.R. Smith has proven to be just as crucial in the playoffs.
The Knicks haven't lost a game where Smith is at least 35 percent from the field on his shot attempts. However, Game 2 against the Indiana Pacers was the first game the Knicks won in the playoffs where he shot below 27 percent.
Smith's freakish athleticism is an intangible that makes him a difficult matchup for any team in the league. That makes him the perfect complement to Anthony.
Most of the Knicks are unfamiliar when it comes to playoff experience. So having players that can step up in addition to Anthony will be important if the Knicks want to truly make a run.
Smith is certainly capable of filling in the gaps.
Indiana Pacers: SF Paul George
Paul George will be huge for the Pacers.
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As the Indiana Pacers look to avenge last year's second-round exit, Paul George has been the man to carry the team.
In Game 1, where the Pacers beat the Knicks, George tallied 19 points, five boards and four assists. He also held Carmelo Anthony to 10-of-28 shooting. So while Anthony scored 27 points in that game, he was not efficient at all.
George is the only guy on the Pacers that has the skill set and athleticism to deal with Anthony.
In Game 2, he scored 20 points but was limited to one assist. And the Pacers were dominated in that game 105-79.
If George can make adjustments heading into the weekend on how to guard Anthony and how to open up his offensive game, he can be the horse that takes the Pacers into the conference finals.
Oklahoma City Thunder: PG Reggie Jackson
Reggie Jackson must fill Russell Westbrook's void.
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While it's obvious that the Thunder will only go as far as Kevin Durant will take them, Reggie Jackson has almost as big a task in the postseason: Replacing Russell Westbrook.
After Westbrook was ruled out of the playoffs, Jackson took the starting role at point for the Thunder.
He won't be asked to score in volumes or make plays for himself. His only real job is to facilitate the offense effectively in Westbrook's absence.
But when you're replacing such a high-profile player, how Jackson fills that void will be magnified.
He only got two assists in Game 2 against the Grizzlies, a game the Thunder lost.
In Game 1 he was also limited to two, and it took a last-second shot from Durant for the Thunder to win that game.
If the Thunder want to assert themselves as the top dog in the West, Jackson has to be a better facilitator at the point.
Memphis Grizzlies: PF Zach Randolph
Zach Randolph can carry the Grizzlies far in the playoffs.
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Zach Randolph has been the go-to guy for the Grizzlies in the playoffs, and he'll have to continue that role if the Grizzlies want to advance past the Thunder.
His biggest role in the conference semifinals is to limit the big-time plays that Serge Ibaka of the Thunder can make.
Ibaka is one of the best shot-blockers in the league. If Randolph can seal him out effectively on the offensive end, that will allow the Grizzlies more quality looks in the paint.
Randolph is a jack of all trades. He has a good mid-range shot, he can work in the post and he's a good defender.
He may not post eye-popping numbers every game, but the Grizzlies need him to continue being physical down low if they want to keep threatening the Thunder.
San Antonio Spurs: PG Tony Parker
Tony Parker must deal with Stephen Curry against the Warriors.
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Tony Parker has been given probably the hardest job of any player in the entire postseason: Guard Stephen Curry.
Curry has been lights-out this postseason, and Parker has to find a way to contain his production and not let it carry the Warriors.
The Spurs made easy work of the Los Angeles Lakers largely in part to Parker picking apart the defense.
Now he's got to do it again against the Warriors. In Game 1, he scored 28 points and added eight assists and eight rebounds.
However in Game 2, he was limited to 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting and just three assists. Parker will have to work the ball around better throughout the rest of the series if the Spurs want to beat the Warriors.
Golden State Warriors: SG Klay Thompson
Klay Thompson was red-hot in Game 2.
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The biggest reason the Warriors took Game 2 against the San Antonio Spurs convincingly was not Stephen Curry, it was Klay Thompson's 34 points and 14 rebounds.
While Curry set the record for most three-pointers made in the regular season, it was Curry and Thompson that set the record for most three-pointers by any tandem on the same team.
With a deadly shooter like that to take the pressure off of Curry, that can open things up for the Warriors.
If Thompson isn't playing as well, like in Game 1 against the Spurs when he only scored 19, that forces the Warriors to put 100 percent of their faith in Curry. And as teams begin to hone in on him, that will become less and less successful.
However, if Thompson can continue to be just as quality a scoring threat as Curry, they could give defenses fits all the way to the finals.