The playoffs are where stars build their legacy. But for the best players and the top teams to maximize their capabilities, the supporting cast has to rise to the occasion as well.
Whether it was John Paxson and Steve Kerr helping the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls complete two separate three-peats. A top-tier rotation including Rick Fox, Derek Fisher and Robert Horry, flanking Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal as they accomplished a three-peat of their own. Or Sam Cassell, Kenny Smith, Vernon Maxwell, and yes, Horry, who has seven rings, stepping up in critical moments en route to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets winning back-to-back championships, the teams that go the furthest run on more than star power.
So without further ado, here are five role players who are standing out in the early stages of the playoffs.
Tim Hardaway Jr., Dallas Mavericks
To put it simply, the Dallas Mavericks aren’t leading the Los Angeles Clippers two games to one without Tim Hardaway Jr.’s contributions.
In Game 1, he scored 21 points and made five of his nine threes (55.6 percent). Hardaway also had the best defensive rating and the highest net rating on the Dallas Mavericks.
In Game 2, he was even more lethal from beyond the arc, draining six of his eight three-point attempts en route to scoring 28 points. Hardaway also dished out five assists, the second-most on Dallas, behind, you guessed it, Luka Doncic, who doled out seven dimes.
Hardaway is in the final year of his contract and, per Marc Stein of the New York Times, there’s optimism within the Mavericks’ organization they can re-sign the sharpshooting wing.
Dillon Brooks, Memphis Grizzlies
Through the first two games of a series tied at one between the eighth-seed in the Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies, and the top seed in the West, the Utah Jazz, Dillon Brooks is averaging 27 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and a block per contest. The fourth-year wing is taking 20 shots per game and converting them at a 57.5 percent clip. He’s also attempting 3.5 threes per contest, which is a modest amount, but he’s making 57.1 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. Brooks also remains relentless defensively, hounding opponents with seemingly endless energy.
Brooks poured in a game-high 31 points and grabbed seven rebounds in Memphis’ Game 1 victory, and he contributed 23 points, combining with Ja Morant to score 70 of the Grizzlies’ 129 points in their Game 2 loss.
Getting extended minutes and being allowed to play through mistakes on a rebuilding franchise has been highly beneficial to Brooks’ development. It’s a significant reason why he’s playing the best ball of his career right now.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Atlanta Hawks
Bogdan Bogdanovic is taking full advantage of his opportunity to participate in the playoffs for the first time in his NBA career. In the Atlanta Hawks’ Game 1 win over the New York Knicks, Bogdanovic contributed 18 points while making four of his nine threes (44.4 percent), including a game-tying triple with 55 seconds left. In 34 minutes, his plus-minus was a game-high +17.
In Game 2’s 101-92 loss, Bogdanovic struggled to find his rhythm from beyond the arc, making only two of his 13 three-point attempts, but he still managed to finish with 18 points while adding six rebounds and three assists. Bogdanovic’s defensive rating was 95.9, and his net rating of 6.8 tied Trae Young for a team-high. And in Game 3, Bogdanovic contributed 15 points and eight rebounds to help the Hawks claim a 2-1 series lead.
Dennis Schroder, Los Angeles Lakers
After averaging 15.4 points, 5.8 assists and 1.1 steals during the regular season, Dennis Schroder is elevating his performance in the playoffs. Through the first three games of the Los Angeles Lakers’ first-round bout with the Phoenix Suns, Schroder’s producing 19.3 points and 1.7 steals per contest. The eighth-year guard is shooting 55.9 percent from the field while taking 11.3 shots, he’s converting 40 percent of the 3.3 long-range attempts he’s hoisting, and he’s getting to the foul line, averaging 6.7 free-throws per contest.
In Game 2, Schroder outscored LeBron James (by a point), scoring 24 points and providing more punch to a Lakers’ offense that got held to 90 in the series opener. He also had the best defensive rating of anyone on either team who logged more than five minutes. As a result, Schroder had the second-highest net rating on the Lakers. And in Game 3, he generated 20 points and four assists to help Los Angeles take a 2-1 lead.
Cameron Payne, Phoenix Suns
It was one performance, and it came in a losing effort, but it just seemed wrong to leave Cameron Payne off this list after he had the best game of his NBA career in Game 2 between the Suns and Lakers.
With Chris Paul compromised by a shoulder injury, Payne played a season-high 33 minutes — he logged less than 13 in Game 1 — and he scored 19 points off the bench, easily topping his previous playoff-high of five. Payne was effective from beyond the arc, making three of his seven threes (42.8 percent), and was aggressive off the dribble, consistently getting into the paint, often demonstrating a deft touch with impressive scoop shots. Payne registered an offensive rating of 118.3, which topped Anthony Davis’ 114.1, and represented the second-best mark on the Suns. Out of the players on Phoenix who played more than five minutes, his 6.9 net rating was also the second-highest on the team.
Payne played a vital part in pushing the Lakers to the brink of a 2-0 deficit, which forced James and Davis to elevate their performance in the game’s final minutes. While it’s unfortunate it came in a losing effort, Payne’s career night is one of the feel-good storylines of the playoffs.
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