The pressure of the NBA Playoffs turns a select few players into diamonds. Proximity to greatness and immortality breeds the sort of intensity that empowers some and stifles others. So, players jostle for rebounding position and call for their shot, all desperate for victory.
There are six former Longhorns who have put themselves in a position for playoffs greatness. They’ve gone from playing sparsely attended home games at the Frank Erwin centers to sold-out, nationally televised NBA playoff games where everyone is watching. But, who are these guys?
Fresh off his one and done year at Texas, the Pacers forward is in the playoffs and making a difference. During the regular season he averaged 10.3 points and 5.5 rebounds which were within the top-10 of both categories among rookies. Through four games (and two wins) in the playoffs, Turner has brought that production to the next level.
Officially a power forward, Turner plays as a stretch four with most of his shots coming more than 16 feet from the basket. Between his ability to stretch opposing big men past the key and his defensive versatility, Turner has been an integral part of the Pacers success for the Raptors. In fact, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel placed him in the starting lineup of Game 4 and team scored a 27-point win over the Raptors. Turner should continue to play well for the Pacers and if they’re able to upset the Raptors, he’ll be a big reason why.
Some people still don’t know who this guy is. Fans of the Longhorns and Spurs do though. As a Longhorn, he put up more than 10 points and game and shot 41% from three. With the San Antonio Spurs, he won a championship as a valuable role player. Now, he’s with the Raptors, trying to secure the franchise’s first second round appearance since 2001.
Joseph is the leader of the Raptors’ second unit, averaging 8.5 points per game and 3.1 assists per game during the regular season. Now in the playoffs, Lowry has disappointed, leading to Joseph seeing more action for team. Although he had a poor Game 4 (0 points, 0 assists), he has played well otherwise, shooting 69% around the basket and playing better defense than he did during the regular season (102 vs 108 defensive rating). He knows what it takes to win, he’s already got a ring. Let’s see if he can teach the Raptors.
372. That’s how many consecutive regular season games Thompson has played in, a category in which he leads all active players. In the storm of controversy that seems to always surround the Cleveland Cavaliers, the former Longhorns big man stands in the eye, always reliable, always playing. Playing that many games in a row requires durability and talent, the likes of which many NBA never combine. During the regular season, Thompson averaged 7.8 point and took 9 rebounds off the glass while simultaneously offering a league-leading offensive rating of 129.8.
Luckily, the Cavs and their head coach Tyronn Lue recognized his incredible consistency and made him the team’s starting center for the playoffs. His stats in the four-game sweep of the Pistons were not great (2.5 pts, 5.5 rebs), but he helped to ensure that the Cavs got the four wins they needed. We’ll just have to see if he can help LeBron & company get one for the “Land.”
Yes, he strained his hamstring and will miss the rest of Round 1. But, that doesn’t take away from his being the longest tenured Boston Celtic AND a suffocating defender at the guard position. After the Celtics upset the Warriors and broke their 54-game win streak, Portland Trail Blazers guard and Sixth Man of the Year, C.J. McCollum praised Bradley via Twitter.
An endorsement like that from a fellow peer compliments the adulation that Bradley has received from NBA commentators throughout his career. That same applause led to Celtics fans fearing the worst for their team versus the Hawks after hearing about his injury. However, the former Longhorn may yet see more NBA playoffs action as the Celtics and Hawks are tied at 2 games apiece.
The former Longhorn parlayed nine seasons and four All-Star game appearances as a Trail Blazer into a 4 year, 84 million dollar contract with the San Antonio Spurs. A team that is conveniently located in Aldridge’s home-state. Although it took the power forward some time to get fully comfortable with the Spurs, he’s still the master of the midrange (43% between 16 feet beyond the basket and the three-point line), capable of shooting over small guys and banging with big dudes at the basket. Oh, and playing on the league’s best defensive team with the league’s best defensive player led to Aldridge’s best defensive rating of his career at 99.
In the playoffs, Aldridge nearly averaged a double-double, putting up 14.5 points per game and grabbing 8 rebounds in a four game sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies. If the Spurs want to take down the winner of the Mavericks/Thunder series and get to the conference finals, they’ll need Aldridge to continue to score buckets and defend big men. I think I can handle it.
What can anyone say about Kevin Durant that hasn’t already been said? The dude won an MVP in 2014, broke his foot (multiple times) in 2015 and rebounded to his superstar form in 2016. Oh, and he occasionally makes his way back to Austin to make the Longhorns ever more proud of what he’s accomplished in the NBA.
This year, he finished third in scoring, with 28.2 points per game, behind former Thunder teammate James Harden (29.0) and three-point shooting king Steph Curry (30.1). While he struggled with injuries during the first half of the season and the Thunder suffered a post-All Star break slump, both Durant and the Thunder appear ready to contend for a championship. They hold a 3-1 series lead over the Mavericks and feature two of the best players in the entire league. We’ll see if KD can have his diamond moment and get a ring.