Which hustlers are giving their team a chance at the upset.
by Brett Callahan
After watching two No. 8 seeds knock off Kobe and LeBron last night, it’s apparent that some minor role players are making some big plays to help the underdogs make this year’s Playoffs one of the better contests in recent years. And it’s just the first round…
Take a look below at which underdog hustlers are making an early impact in a tight Playoff race:
Marcus Camby – Portland
The man is just ageless. At 36, Camby is still the biggest defensive/rebounding threat on the court. His block on Goran Dragic looked like some high school kid swatting away a first grader’s shot that flew off the backboard faster than Michael Sweetney’s career. Camby will need to find a way to finish at the basket more often and not brick wide open dunks, but he’s doing all he can to keep Portland competitive against a much healthier Phoenix club. He’s reached double-digit boards in every game and will most likely up his blocks and steals in upcoming contests. Regardless, Camby is adjusting nearly every shot in the paint. He’ll need some help soon though if Portland has any chance.
Series prediction: Phoenix in 6.
Serge Ibaka – Oklahoma City
I wrote about Ibaka having a breakout season next year in my last column, but the Urge for more Serge is starting a whole lot earlier. Ibaka outplayed Jeff Green last night and earned some big minutes in the fourth quarter. Even if Gasol is having a nice series, Ibaka is wreaking havoc on both of L.A.’s seven-footers. Seven blocks in Game 2 to go along with an early showing of an improved outside game have Ibaka as my new favorite bench player in the NBA. Expect his minutes to teeter past 30 next game and the Thunder to notch it up at 2-2. The most entertaining team so far will fall soon though so enjoy the ride.
Series prediction: Lakers in 6.
Matt Bonner – San Antonio
Bonner hasn’t played a whole lot, and, in truth, the Spurs are going to need a lot more from the likes of George Hill and Mantonio McDyess, but Bonner is the three-point threat who can change the momentum of the game in one or two shots. Big Red is giving the big men a breather while providing smart play and a rover on the perimeter to draw out Dampier, Nowitzki and Haywood. It may not seem like a huge deal or impressive production, but it opens up the post for Timmy to do his thing. As always, the Spurs will linger.
Series prediction: Mavs in 7.
Paul Millsap – Utah
Fesenko’s size has caused issues for Denver, but it’s Millsap who’s bringing the real impact off the bench in Okur’s absence. Utah is discovering that life without Okur isn’t too bad, providing more time for Millsap and Fesenko to wear down Denver’s bigs. Millsap’s best games in the series are definitely still to come, which spells bad news for Denver. If Utah can put Melo away, I like their chances.
Series prediction: Jazz in 7.
Joakim Noah – Chicago: You have to tip your cap to Noah for backing up his trash-talking with some incredible play in the series. The guy has a motor that won’t stop (and a mouth too), and he’s easily been Chicago’s second best player behind Derrick Rose. His dismantling of Cleveland’s nightlife actually put more of the burden on his shoulders, which allows Rose and Hinrich to relax and play; a smart move in some regards, even though I doubt he intended it for this use. He’s blocking shots, scoring inside, extending the defense, challenging his opponents, and passing extremely well. If Taj Gibson can get on board, Chicago may make the series a bit more interesting.
Series prediction: Cavs in 5.
Udonis Haslem – Miami: Miami looks like a sinking ship, so it’s hard to pick someone outside of Dwyane Wade who appears to be trying. Haslem is the one consistent energy plug you can count on to at least put forth an effort. He’s a solid bench post presence and always rebounds while annoying opponents both defensively and offensively. Soon to be a free agent, he may be playing his last couple games as a member of the Heat, but he’ll go out the same way he’s always done, hustlin’.
Series prediction: Celtics in 4.
Ersan Ilyasova – Milwaukee: The man who nearly shattered Tyreke Evans’ face is playing huge in Bogut’s absence. In just 23.5 mpg, Killyasova is going for 12 and 10.5, while hitting threes and using his bony frame to bruise some ribs. The Bucks have played admirably without Bogut, and I can see them taking at least one on their home floor. Milwaukee has a lot to look forward to in the future, but the Hawks are too athletic for a team that’s giving big minutes to guys like Jerry Stackhouse and Kurt Thomas, who should be in a TNT booth and not on the court.
Series prediction: Hawks in 5.
Gerald Wallace – Charlotte: In some cases, the best player on the team is also the only one who seems to be hustling, and who’s close (S-Jax is delivering too) to the case in Charlotte. Wallace’s career started as a high-flying, no skill-set player, but has developed into one of the more elite and well-rounded stars in the League. His rebounding (11.5 rpg), defense (2.5 bpg), and explosive play are the only chance the Bobcats have to get on board soon against a Magic team that seems to be toying with them. The time is now or never while Charlotte has the home floor, and Wallace and Jackson sure could use some help from the rest of their confused team.
Series Prediction: Magic in 5.