There have been amazing games, incredible performances, and dramatic storylines throughout these playoffs, but when it’s all said and done the one thing we will all remember is the first thing we will want to forget: the injuries. Beginning with Derrick Rose in the first round and spanning until now with Chris Bosh, some of the best players in this league have had to sit out multiple games because of a litany of bumps and bruises. Not only have fans missed out on some memorable games, but audiences have also been deprived of great individual matchups, some of which certainly would have affected the outcomes of their respective series. Here are the top five one-on-one matchups that could have been, but injuries prevented from happening in this year’s playoffs:
5. Al Horford vs. Kevin Garnett
This matchup of two of the best centers in the Eastern Conference (and no, I cannot believe I just called KG one of the best centers out East) was ruined very early on in the season, January 9th to be exact. The only reason this matchup is so low on our list is that Horford was able to make it back for Game 4 of these teams’ first round series, salvaging one of the best one-on-one matchups in the first round. During those three games, Horford went for 15.33 points a game along with 8.33 boards a game. Garnett, on the other hand, posted averages of 19 points and 8.67 rebounds over the same span. It surely would have been a treat to see these two go at it for the first three games of the series.
4. Roy Hibbert vs. Chris Bosh
Hibbert is just about as frustrating as it comes in terms of inconsistency, as shown by his point totals of 17, 8, 19, 10, 8, and 12 in Round 2. From game to game, from minute to minute even, Hibbert can go from looking like the All-Star he was this season to giving off the vibe that he is an unfinished project, which he may always be. But the great thing about Hibbert is that for every head-scratching play he makes, there’s at least one that is just as jaw-dropping. That’s why I would have loved to see Hibbert challenged over a seven game series by a player like Chris Bosh. With Bosh in the lineup, Hibbert would have been forced to extend out and defend his jumper while also attempting to maintain a defensive presence in the lane. It would have been quite the task for Hibbert to hold up over an entire series, but it at least could have given us a better idea where this big man realistically falls on his ever-changing spectrum of talent.
3. Derrick Rose vs. Jrue Holliday
We got to see these two duke it out for almost an entire game. Somehow, after only putting up 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists compared to Rose’s 23 points, 9 assists, and 9 rebounds, Holliday came out on top simply because he was still standing by the end of the game. Without Rose around to wear him down over the final five games of the series, Holliday posted averages of 18.6 points, 5.2 assists, and 4.8 rebounds. Those stats nowhere approach Rose’s regular output, but Holliday was able to establish himself as Philadelphia’s most consistent offensive threat. The 76ers have to feel pretty good about their point guard heading into his third season, but you have to wonder if the franchise would be as confident about their lead guard of the future if Rose had been able to contain him in the first round and prevent an appearance in the conference semifinals.
2. Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Bosh
We were almost lucky enough to see these two forwards-playing-center go at it in Game 5, but instead Bosh only played 14 minutes. That now makes four games we’ve missed out on seeing these two match up when they’re both one hundred percent. Granted, Garnett rarely ever matches up on the opposing team’s best big man because his strong suit lies in his help side defense, the Celtics might not have many options. In Game 6, fans and media members alike had their eyes on Bosh to see how he would spread out the Celtics’ defense with his midrange jumper. However, Bosh played sparingly and failed to consistently challenge Garnett on both ends of the floor. Although we have seen Bosh for a limited amount of time in this series, we surely have not seen his best against what could arguably be the best basketball KG has played in his career. And that, my friends, is a crying shame.
1. Avery Bradley vs. Dwyane Wade
Bradley has turned into one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Wade continues to be one of the best penetrators and finishers in both transition and the half court. How could that matchup not be a classic? Seeing one player transform into one of the most daunting defensive presences in the NBA while matching up against one of the most explosive players in the game certainly would have been a treat. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be as Bradley was knocked out of the playoffs with repeated shoulder problems. Instead, Bradley has to sit on the sidelines while his team has taken a 3-2 lead against the favored Heat and wonder what could have been if he had his shot at Wade. In a postseason that has been fascinating from so many angles, matchups like these that should have been are about all fans can find to complain about.
Some players thrive in the playoff atmosphere, the pressure ignites something within and they call upon every ounce of talent they have to give it their all when it matters most. On the flip side some players just can’t handle the spotlight of the NBA playoffs and end up withering when their team needs them the most. These are the 5 players who improved the most from the regular season and the 5 players who saw the biggest drop offs in the 2012 playoffs.
The 5 Up
We all knew Rondo was a triple-double waiting to happen when the playoffs started, but his performance so far in the playoffs has been ridiculous nonetheless. Over the course of the Celtics’ seven playoff games Rondo has averaged 15 points, 12.7 assists, and 6.7 rebounds. That’s an increase from 11.9, 11.7, and 4.8 respectively from the regular season, all while maintaining a shooting percentage around 44%. The Celtics will need his consistent play and ability to improve the veterans around him if they hope to advance past the Sixers.
Yes, the Nuggets eventually lost to the Lakers, but the series would have never made it to seven games if it weren’t for Lawson’s play. Lawson increased his scoring from 16.4 per game in the regular season to 19 in the series against the Lakers, playing almost the exact same minutes per game and meanwhile improving his shooting percentage from 48.8% to 51.4%. Lawson’s performance in game 6 and 7 are reason enough to include him on this list. In those two games he averaged 28 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds while shooting 64.9% from the field and 58.3% from beyond the arc.
Garnett has re-emerged as the KG of old in the playoffs, scoring, rebounding, and bringing the swagger that won him defensive player of the year in 2008. After averaging 15.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1 block on 50.3% shooting in the regular season the 2004 season MVP has improved to 19.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks while shooting 52.9% and giving Rondo a reliable scoring option. Look no further than Game 6 against the Hawks for proof, when he scored 28 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, and garnered 3 steals and 5 blocks.
In 22 games for the Clippers during the season Young provided a solid but streaky scorer off the bench. So far the former reigning “Not Top Play” champion has excelled in the playoffs. Despite seeing less minutes per game Young has averaged 8.8 points on 45.8% shooting, 59.1% from three, making the most of the 6 shots he sees per game. Considering he shot 39.4% (35.3% from three) during the regular season it’s great to see him pick up his play in the postseason. I guess it takes a little while to scrub the musk of the Wizards off you.
Hill contributed 9.6 points per game off the bench for the Pacers after they took a risky move trading Kawhi Leonard for the former Spurs guard. That move is now paying off with Hill stepping into the starting lineup and providing a reliable scorer while Darren Collison comes off the bench. The guard out of IUPUI has contributed 13.7 points per game during the playoffs and has more than doubled his trips to the free throw line where he has improved from 77.8% in the regular season to 85.3% in the playoffs.
Honorable Mention: Mike Conley, Jrue Holiday, Roy Hibbert, Reggie Evans, and David West
The 5 Down
Gasol’s strength and resolve have been questioned in previous years when it came playoff time, and this postseason does nothing to refute those claims. While his counterpart in the post has maintained his performance, Pau has experienced a significant drop in a number of major statistical categories. Throughout the regular season he averaged 17.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, and shot 50.1% despite the continued emergence of Andrew Bynum. Unfortunately during the playoffs he has regressed to 12.5 points and 8.9 rebounds while only shooting 43%. The last time the Lakers won the championship Pau averaged 19.6 points and 11.1 rebounds while shooting 53.9%, what a difference two years make.
Ginobili struggled to stay on the court during the regular season due to injuries, but he still provided a reliable and efficient scorer off the bench that was a threat from anywhere on the floor. The Spurs have succeeded in the postseason so far despite Ginobli’s significant decline in production. After posting 12.9 points on 52.6% shooting, including 41.3% from three, Manu has been struggling to find his shot. He is averaging more shots per game (9.2 compared to 8.4) while scoring less (11.2, down from 12.9) thanks to his 41.4% field goal percentage and 27.3% from beyond the arc. The Jazz weren’t even a speed bump on the Spurs path to the championship, but the Clippers are a significantly better team. If the Spurs hope to put away good teams Ginobli is going to have to step up his production.
Bradley impressed Celtics and NBA fans alike when he stepped into the starting lineup for Ray Allen and produced spectacularly. He averaged 15.1 points while shooting 52% from the field and 54.5% from three during the month of April, a promising performance knowing Allen may have to miss some games during the playoffs. Despite his regular season burst in production Bradley has fallen hard back down to Earth after Allen returned. During the postseason Bradley is averaging 7.4 points on 38.3% shooting from the field and 23.5% from three.
Rarely does the leading scorer of a playoff team happen to be a bench player, but the Sixers put together an impressive season that led to a playoff berth with Lou Williams leading the charge with 14.9 points per game off the bench. He wasn’t the most efficient scorer (40.7% from the field and 36.2% from three) but he brought life to the second unit and proved to be a valuable asset. During the Sixers playoff run Williams has seen a drastic drop in his already not-so-efficient play. The runner up for the 2012 6th Man of the Year is currently shooting 34.8% from the field and 15.2% from three point land, making the already difficult task of taking down the Celtics that much tougher. Fortunately the Sixers have enough players that can contribute scoring that it may not be too detrimental to their playoff hopes.
The Jazz were late in joining the playoff picture and early leaving it. The young team was no match for the top-seeded Spurs and were easily taken care of in four games. I’m sure there are plenty of startling bad stats from that series, but Hayward’s performance stands out among them all. The former Butler phenom enjoyed an impressive improvement from his rookie year this season, averaging 11.8 points on 45.6% from the field and 34.6% from three. Those numbers seemed to indicate progress made on his jump shot, but they took an unfortunate turn for the worse once the playoffs started. Hayward made 6 out of his 33 shots during the series, 1 out of 12 from three, which translates to 18.2% from the field and 8.3% from three. The only player who averaged more than 10 minutes per game and had a worse shooting percentage was Iman Shumpert. However, Shumpert gets a free pass since he played 19 minutes of one game and then tore his ACL. Hayward averaged over 30 minutes per game in that series. I don’t know who to feel worse for, the guy that got injured or the one who had everyone watch him shoot slightly better than Jared Jeffries (16.7% in 6.8 minutes per game).
Honorable Mention: J.R. Smith, Deandre Jordan, C.J. Watson, O.J. Mayo, and Elton Brand