Kyle Soppe also writes about the NBA for Pickin’ Splinters. Follow him on Twitter.
The first weekend of the NBA playoffs is off to a flying start, and here are the players who stood a step above the rest.
Player: LeBron James
Standout Stats: 32 points, 71.4 FG%, +35 plus/minus, 4 steals
- James played like a man possessed on Saturday, as he ripped the heart and soul out of the New York faithful with a dominant performance. This game was never close; the Heat used a 32-4 run bridging the second quarter to the third to quickly making this a laugher.
- Sure, LeBron’s 32 points on 10/14 shooting is impressive, but the Heat will only go as far as their defense (and ability to turnover their opponent over) will allow. The King had 4 steals as part of a Heat transition attack that turned 27 Knick turnover into 38 points.
- The Heat are as talented as any team, and if they are getting easy shots (shot 53.1% from inside of the arc), they are near unbeatable. LeBron has proven the ability to take over early series’, and this was another prime example of just how gifted he is.
Player: Andrew Bynum
Standout Stats: 10 points, 13 rebounds, 10 blocked shots, 71.4 FG%
- Bynum led the Lakers to a 20 point edge in the paint, as they physically abused the aggressive Nuggets.
- In a game with no shortage of solid big men, Bynum clogged the paint in no way any Laker, statistically speaking, ever has. He set a franchise record for blocked shots in a playoff game, and became only the second player to record a playoff triple double that included blocked shots.
- Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant struggled to shoot 45%, but it didn’t matter, as the Nuggets (who average 104 ppg) couldn’t get good looks at the rim. The Lakers won the first quarter and third quarter by a combined 16 points, and it is no coincidence that Bynum swatted 7 shots in those quarters.
Player: Serge Ibaka
Standout Stats: 22 points, 75 FG%, 5 blocked shots, team high 3 offensive rebounds, 0 turnovers in 39 minutes
- I’m as big of a Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook fan as there is, but without Ibaka in the middle, KD doesn’t have a chance to play hero. Ibaka controlled the paint for the entire game, resulting in a 12 point edge for the home team.
- The blocked shots are one thing, but his ability to intimidate has more of an impact than the 5 blocks indicate. With Ibaka inside, it allows the Thunder defenders to press Dirk Nowitzki and put ball pressure on Jason Kidd. Remember how the Green Bay Packers could take chances on defense because Aaron Rodgers would make up for it? It’s the same idea, as Ibaka allows the other four defenders to take chances, knowing that the shot swatter is patrolling the paint.
- On the other end of the floor, Ibaka scored 2.5 times his regular season average, and the Thunder had 4 players scored 94.9% of the teams points. Everybody knows about the Thunder’s big three, and if they get this type of production out of option number four, they are the most complete team in the NBA.
Player: Andre Miller
Standout Stats: 12 points, 8 rebounds (2 offensive), 7 assists, 0 turnovers
- This just in; Andre Miller can lead your basketball team. He isn’t a piece you build a winner around, but he is certainly a piece that a winning team can use. This season, Andre Miller trails only Rajon Rondo and Jason Kidd in Assist Rate among regulars in this postseason. He matched Andrew Bynum when it comes to offensive rebounds and managed to not turn the ball over a single time in his 26.5 minutes of action. Miller’s Nuggets were physically dominated, but he was living the High Life with a solid effort in the series opener.
Player: Richard Hamilton
Standout Stats: 19 points, 92.9 eFG%, +15 plus/minus, 4:1 assist to turnover
- On a night where the Bulls had to say “rest in peace” to Derrick Rose‘s season, Rip Hamilton stepped his game up to the level it’ll take for Chicago to advance. The ultra-efficient shooting guard played within himself, and ran off multiple screens to get good looks at the basket. He will be counted on more and more as the postseason progresses, a role that has seen him thrive in seasons past. He isn’t DRose, but he is a leader who I’d trust to lead my team. Don’t throw in the towel quite yet Chicago, Hamilton has a postseason run left in him.
Player: Roy Hibbert
Standout Stats: 9 blocked shots and 13 rebounds
- The Pacers may have lost the battle, but I am still confident that they will win this war. Hibbert is a big reason why. His performance was overshadowed by the big numbers of Bynum, but Hibbert wasn’t far off. He absolutely dominated the painted area, something that will result in wins sooner rather than later. The Magic made three-pointers (+15 from distance) and that is going to happen over the course of a series, but Hibbert’s ability to alter shots is something that is far more consistent.
- The Pacers are a solid team, and should make adjustments to better contest the Orlando shooters, and much like Ibaka, Hibbert gives his teammates a chance to take risks. He may not block 9 shots again this series, but he won’t be held to 8 points either. With the Pacers lacking a true star, expect Hibbert to see increased post touches as this series progresses, thus resulting in Pacer victories.
Top Lineup: Every Clipper reserve
If you’re going to come back from 27 down on the road, you need a few performances that surprise everybody. The Clippers got exactly that from efficient bench, as LA stormed back to take Game One in Memphis. Nick Young led all scorers with 19 points, but the bench’s impact goes much further than that. Their combined plus/minus ratio was +69, with every player registering a positive figure. Compare that to the starters (a total of -68 with all negative ratios) and you’ve got yourself a boxscore that was as rare as the game itself. The reserves made 18/29 shots from the field, with every player shooting at least 50% while the starters shot 20/47, with no players shooting better than 50%. The super subs made more three pointers, grabbed more rebounds, and blocked more shots despite playing fewer minutes. If this isn’t the definition of “stealing” a game, I’m not sure what is.
Honorable Mention - Top Lineup: Lakers duo succeeds due to violent World Peace
Devin Ebanks and Jordan Hill filled in for the suspended forward, and played a big role in LA’s ability to beat the Nuggets. The increased role fit these two nicely, as they shot 62.5% on their way to 22 points. They also managed to haul in 15 rebounds and both players produced a positive plus/minus ratio. Hill grabbed as many offensive rebounds (4) as Bynum and Gasol combined. I equate them to a “game managing” quarterback, as they are asked to play within themselves, and not lose the game. The duo didn’t turn the ball over a single time and gave the Lakers solid bench minutes. If the Lakers have more depth than we thought, there is no reason they cannot make a move this postseason.
Top Flop Lineup: Knicks starters other than Baron Davis
Yikes. With Melo coming off of his best month of the season, and Amare Stoudemire as healthy as he has been, the Knicks truly thought they could hang with the Heat on Saturday night. Their starters doomed them from the get-go, as they shot 18.5% from the field on their way to an anemic 20 total points. That is one more point than Dwayne Wade scored and 12 less than LeBron poured in. They recorded 3.5 turnovers for every assist, a ratio that is nearly impossible to overcome. They need to rebound quickly, otherwise this is going to be a quick and painful series.