Thursday April 30th, 2015

It’s expected that MVP candidates like Stephen Curry, James Harden and LeBron James would continue playing at a high level in a postseason setting. They’re the alpha dogs who lead by example through their stellar play and their on-court leadership.

A collection of All-Stars, key starters and notable role players, meanwhile, have put forth surprising performances on both ends of the spectrum: from impressive to disappointing.

Those eye-opening performances, good and bad, have shaped the early stages of the 2015 NBA playoffs. The following guys have underperformed compared to their regular season numbers or outpaced what fans have come to expect of them. In some cases, they have shown each side of that coin.

Blake Griffin, Clippers

A lack of bench depth has acted as the Clippers’ Achilles’ heel all season long. More often than not, however, the starting five has been able to make up for that shortcoming with brilliant play.

In the case of Blake Griffin, he’s merely upped his level of play in L.A.’s first round series against the defending champion Spurs.

The big man’s numbers are up across the board compared to his playoff showing in 2014. Most surprisingly, though, is that Griffin is dishing out 7.2 assists per game. That mark ranks the 26-year-old No. 5 on the playoff leaderboard, behind only John Wall, James Harden, J.J. Barea and Curry. That’s certainly unusual for a 6'10" power forward.

So far, this also marks the first time in Griffin’s career that he’s upped his scoring output in the postseason compared to his regular season numbers.

All of those numbers are great, but why then are the Clippers trailing in their series against San Antonio 3-2? Well, one variable contributing to the rough losses is Griffin’s performance in the fourth quarter of these games.

As Bleacher Report’s Alec Nathan pointed out via Twitter, the Oklahoma product is shooting a woeful 19% from the field in the fourth quarter during the playoffs. His numbers on paper have been tremendous, but his disappearing act with the game winding down (which is likely tied to his hefty workload, 41.2 minutes per game) has to concern fans as Lob City faces elimination.

Derrick Rose, Bulls

It was genuinely impossible to have any concrete expectations with regard to Derrick Rose. The last time he suited up for a playoff game was back in 2012. He missed 20 straight games from February through April after suffering a torn meniscus in his right knee and was just getting his sea legs back in the final five games of the regular season.

In Game 1 against Milwaukee, Rose looked like he was back to his old self. He scored 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field (3-of-7 from long range) to accompany seven assists and two steals. He made just 4-of-14 shots in Game 2, but he dished out nine assists and added seven rebounds in the 91–82 win.

His best performance of the series, however, was without a doubt his Game 3 outburst in which he drained 5-of-9 three-pointers en route to a 34-point, eight-assist outing to bump the series lead to 3-0. Rose, for the moment, was back.

Following those resurgent performances, though, D-Rose has fallen back. In Games 4 and 5, Rose shot 10-of-33 from the field (30.3%), 2-of-11 from three-point land (18.1%) and turned the ball over 14 times.

No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit before, so it’s not time for fans in the Windy City to panic. With that said, Rose’s wildly inconsistent play will need to even out for the Bulls to have a shot at moving beyond the second round.

Deron Williams, Nets

While we’re on the subject of point guards who have been hot and cold in the playoffs thus far, we’d be remissed not to mention the play of Deron Williams.

The veteran floor general shot a paltry 26.9% from the field in Games 1, 2 and 3. He continued to look like the shell of himself who garnered harsh criticism from former teammate Paul Pierce. That all changed in Game 4.

In Brooklyn’s series-tying win, D-Will erupted for 35 points on 13-of-25 shooting (7-of-11 from beyond the arc). He also played 46 minutes, the second-highest total in any game he’s played this season.

Was it a sign that Williams was finally poised to regain his confidence and return to the form he showed in Utah? As it turns out, the answer is no. He crumpled again in Game 5 (five points on 2-of-8 shooting).

Williams has surprised by being preposterously poor or lights out with no in-between. He’s experiencing the most bizarre 2015 postseason of any player not named “Rajon Rondo.”

• MORE NBA: Schedule | Grades | Awards | Playoff coverage | Finals picks

Kyle Lowry, Raptors

The Toronto Raptors time in the 2015 postseason was short-lived, as the slumping franchise was swept out of the first round by Washington without putting up much of a fight. All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry’s struggles continued, as he failed to crack double-digit scoring outputs in Games 1 and 2.

The Villanova product’s rebounding and assist outputs were on par with the numbers he posted in the playoffs last year, but his scoring experienced a harsh decline. That may not be seen as terribly surprising, given that Lowry had been slumping since the All-Star break.

It was alarming, however, to see the 29-year-old veteran act out in frustration as often as he did. That certainly doesn’t set the best example for his teammates as one of the go-to guys.

Paul Pierce, Wizards

“The Truth” was brought to Washington to act as a sage veteran and mentor for a young crop of players including John Wall and Bradley Beal. In the playoff atmosphere, Pierce had provided much more than that.

Throughout a Hall-of-Fame-caliber career, Pierce has typically scored points on par with what he did during the regular season. As a 37-year-old playing for his third organization in a three-year span, he’s picked an opportune time to play his best basketball of the season. In the sweep over Toronto, Pierce was incredibly efficient by draining 57.6% of his field goals and a robotic 58.3% of his threes.

He’s been on a steady decline for a while now, but it appears the playoff atmosphere is exactly what Pierce needed to show out like old times.

Kyle Korver, Hawks

There were times this season when it looked as though Kyle Korver was going to finish 2014-15 with a historic 50-50-90 campaign. He wound up falling short of all three of those percentages, but he still shot an absolutely ridiculous 49.2% from downtown (second in the league among qualified players—Luke Babbitt was first at 51.3%).

Korver was virtually automatic from every three-point shooting zone during the regular season, but he simply hasn’t been nearly as reliable in the postseason setting. In fact, he’s been rather pedestrian (certainly by his lofty standards).

The 34-year-old sharpshooter is shooting 40.7% from the field and 35.4% from three-point range against the Nets. He went 0-of-5 from long range in Game 3 and 4-of-13 in Game 4 (both Hawks losses).

Give credit to Nets head coach Lionel Hollins and Brooklyn’s defense for stifling his effectiveness, but it’s still surprising to see Korver’s considerable dip in production.

Corey Brewer, Rockets

On the flip side when compared to Korver, Corey Brewer was a reprehensible three-point shooter during the regular season (particularly from the corners).

In fact, by shooting just 26.8% from downtown throughout the year, Brewer was the league’s worst qualified three-point shooter. He simply had no business trying to spread the floor (be it with Minnesota or Houston).

Oddly enough, the former Florida Gator has undergone a complete turnaround since postseason action started. He’s shooting a scorching-hot 53.3% from beyond the arc (51.8% overall). Given that the 29-year-old is a career 29% three-point shooter, it may be time to stock up on canned goods and bottled water after watching him shoot better than 50% for an entire series.

Jamal Crawford, Clippers

Jamal Crawford suffered through an injury-ravaged year with the Clippers in 2014-15, but he was still expected to be the primary spark off an otherwise tepid bench throughout the playoffs. Unfortunately for Doc Rivers, Crawford’s off to an abysmal start.

The 35-year-old veteran has never been one to make an impact on the defensive side of the ball, nor in categories outside of scoring. In the 2015 playoffs, even his scoring hasn’t been up to snuff. He’s shooting 35.5% from the field and a disastrous 17.4% from distance (4-of-23). This continues a distressing trend for Crawford, who has been underperforming in the playoffs compared to the regular season for three straight years.

If the man known as “J. Crossover” doesn’t start knocking down shots as the leader of L.A.’s second unit, the Clippers will suffer a devastating first round exit.

Tony Parker, Spurs

Dating back to his rookie year in 2001-02, Tony Parker has been consistently brilliant for the Spurs during postseason play. He hasn’t always needed to be the best player on the court—given that he’s had the luxury of playing with an elite supporting cast—but his track record of playoff success resulted in an NBA Finals MVP back in 2007.

The veteran point guard has been performing extremely well in these situations for a long time, which is the biggest reason why it’s so alarming to see him struggle this badly.

Parker’s numbers have dipped to places at or near career playoff lows across the board. He’s shooting just 32.8% from the field and has missed all eight of his three-point tries. He’s been banged up with various nagging injuries, but he’s even sputtered at the charity stripe (58.8%).

Parker is in an ugly funk. For San Antonio to have any hope of repeating as champs, he’ll need to regain his confidence in a hurry.

More from Ben Leibowitz:

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