Now that the NBA Playoffs are down to the final four, we can see who are the real contenders and pretenders for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Outside of the megastars on each team, let’s look at players who aren’t getting enough credit, but are having superb playoff runs.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Kevin Love
While Love will forever be the scapegoat for the Cavaliers shortcomings, he has been fairly consistent this postseason. In 13 playoff games, he is averaging 15.5 ppg and 10.3 rebounds. Yes, the Cavs will go as far as LeBron James will take them, but, like all superstars in the NBA, he is going to need help and Love has been that guy.
When engaged, Love is a player who can not only rebound at a high rate, but also score efficiently. Love will need to improve his three-point percentage (37 percent), but his contributions offensively have been consistent. To put Love’s game this postseason into perspective, he has had a better plus/minus with a sum of +43 than James has had with a sum of -5. Love is not as much of a focal point on the Cavs offense as James, but his impact and ability to be the perfect role player have been superb.
If the Cavs lose the series to the Celtics or lose in the NBA Finals, all signs will point to James has no help, but Love has been a constant for the Cavs, offensively at least.
Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum
The Celtics were written off as championship contenders once Kyrie Irving went out with a knee injury. Well, they look like a team that could be heading to the NBA Finals. Al Horford, Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, and Jaylen Brown have received a lot of credit for this run, but Jayson Tatum has stood out.
If the Rookie of the Year Award included postseason play, Tatum would win unanimously. Tatum has been phenomenal in his first playoff appearance. At only 20-years-old he is averaging 18.5 points per game on 46 percent shooting from the field. More than just stats, the biggest contribution from Tatum has been his willingness and ability to make plays in big-time moments.
He put up 20 points in the Game 7 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks and averaged 23.6 points in the second round series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Tatum is one of only two rookies, the other being Utah Jazz standout rookie Donavan Mitchell, to score 20 or more points in seven consecutive postseason games since Julius Erving did it in the ABA in 1972. If Tatum continues his impressive play, he will be a household name for years to come.
Houston Rockets: Clint Capela
The Rockets are one of the best offensive teams in the NBA today. They averaged 112 points per game during the regular season and it’s been on display this postseason. James Harden and Chris Paul are leading the Rockets to 109 points per game this postseason. But with all the focus on the offense, their defense has been stellar also, giving up 101 points per game, third best among all playoff teams. A big factor is the defense is the man in the middle, Capela.
Capela’s ability to defend the paint and alter shots has been on display all postseason. He is averaging 2.7 blocks per game in the postseason, up from his 1.9 per game during the regular season. In five of the 12 postseason games, Capela has blocked three or more shots including a six-block performance against the Jazz. Outside of his defense, he has also been stellar offensively with 13.4 points per game on 64 percent shooting and 11.5 rebounds per game.
We know what Harden and CP3 can do, but it seems as if Capela has been the most important piece on this Rockets team this postseason.
Golden State Warriors: Klay Thompson
Thompson has always been ” the forgotten Warrior,” but he is just as important as Draymond Green, Steph Curry, or Kevin Durant. In 12 playoff games, Thompson has averaged 20.7 points per game while shooting 44 percent from the field. Overshadowed by perhaps the best offensive player in the world in Durant, the most likable player in the NBA in Curry, and (on the flipside) the most hated player in the NBA in Green, Thompson is the middleman who comfortably slides under the radar. He is a scorer who is fully capable of exploding for 40-plus at any given time and a deadly three-point shooter, but what has made him even more valuable this postseason has been his defensive ability.
He is usually tasked with guarding the opposing teams best perimeter players which have included Danny Green, Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili for the San Antonio Spurs, Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo for the New Orleans Pelicans, and, now, Harden and Paul for the Rockets this postseason. This helps Golden State tremendously as it takes the load off of the other stars so they can do their thing offensively.
The stars have gotten each of the four teams this far and that is what makes the NBA entertaining for the fans. As we all know, there are guys on each team that go unnoticed. The unsung heroes or the forgotten man help, by in large, make a championship team.