warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Key Players for Each Conference Finals Team

Jeffrey Dubrof |
May 20, 2015 | 1:06 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

For the second straight year in the NBA playoffs, the top two seeds in each conference will square off against each other in the conference finals. Each team has an asset that will be heavily relied on throughout the duration of the series and some may not be players that everyone expects. Who is each teams key player for the conference finals?

Josh Smith (@DimeMag/Twitter)
Josh Smith (@DimeMag/Twitter)
Houston Rockets: Josh Smith

It was made pretty clear in the miraculous game six comeback win for the Rockets that James Harden and Dwight Howard are going to be heavily relied on if they are to stand a chance against the NBA’s best Golden State. However, the man that seemed to put the team on his back during the comeback in game six and can become a third star for this team if he plays the way he is capable of playing is Josh Smith. Smith is a player who has been the center of a lot of scrutiny this year and has been portrayed as a player with which no team can win.

However, it looks as if Smith is trying to fight off those demons and still prove to the league and the fans that he is still one of the premier forwards in the game. Smith is averaging 12.9 points per game in the playoffs this year, which is .5 points better than his regular season average. While that it is a small increase, Smith's effect was seen during the Game Six comeback against the Clippers. With the Clippers taking a nearly twenty point lead into the 4th quarter, and James Harden on the bench throughout its entirety, Smith put up 11 points, including a couple of clutch 3-pointers to get his team back into the game.

Smith has proven to be extremely effective on the defensive side of the ball throughout the duration of his career, but has never been seen as a scoring threat. If the Rockets can find a way for Smith to become an offensive threat in this series and allow him to become a third star on the team alongside Howard and Harden, it could make things much harder for the Warriors to contain these three players on the offensive side of the ball. If Smith cannot find his rhythm shooting the ball, then look for the Rockets to use Smith as a decoy. Smith is hot right now and it would be shocking to see Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr not prepare appropriately for him.

Klay Thompson (@AdiJoseph/twitter)
Klay Thompson (@AdiJoseph/twitter)
Golden State Warriors: Klay Thompson 

The key player for the Golden State Warriors will not be Stephen Curry. Curry has proven already that he has a fire lit under him and has been playing tremendous basketball since the Warriors lost games two and three to Memphis in the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Klay Thompson is the key player for the Warriors in this series.

Klay Thompson, a potent offensive threat, will have to step up in a way that most people usually do not see. Thompson, who will most likely have the task of guarding James Harden, could ultimately be the deciding factor in this series. Thompson will produce his numbers offensively, but it will be his production of the defensive side of the ball that will be the most integral part of his contribution to the Warriors in this series. As of right now, the Warriors are the league’s best team when it comes to points per possession for every 100 possessions in a game. Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut will certainly play key roles defensively but in order to contain Harden, Thompson will have to play nearly flawless defense. 

Atlanta Hawks: Al Horford

It is no secret that the Atlanta Hawks were the most surprising team this NBA season. After putting up the second best record in the league and the best record in the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks looked poised to breeze through the weak Eastern Conference. But the Hawks' road through the playoffs has been a little bumpier than both the Hawks and the experts expected. The Hawks won their first two series in six games but struggled along the way.

If the Hawks are to stand a chance against the King and his Cleveland Cavaliers, Al Horford will have to step up and emerge from the shadows of stardom to the spotlight. Horford has been an emerging star since being drafted out of Florida where he won back-to-back national championships. Horford has proved himself a top big man in the league and is putting up great numbers this far in the playoffs. The big man is averaging 15.6 points per game and about 10 rebounds per game. A double-double average is exactly what the Hawks will need from Horford in this conference finals round if they are to make the series interesting. With injuries to Cavaliers Forwards Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao, Horford should be able to man-handle his way to buckets in the low post; assuming he isn’t being guarded by Lebron, of course. If the Hawks can get the style of play and performance that Horford is capable of, then their chances of winning this series will be a lot greater than if not.

Lebron James (@NBA.com/twitter)
Lebron James (@NBA.com/twitter)
Cleveland Cavaliers: Lebron James

The facts are pretty clear and when you are known as the outright best player on your team, let alone the best player on the planet, then you have to be the key player for your team. Lebron James can single-handedly take over a game and series if he so chooses, and it is the playoffs which only means James will certainly turn it up a notch. James is averaging a double-double thus far in the playoffs with 26.5 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game. Not only is producing on his own talent offensively, but he is sharing the ball and creating offense for his teammates posting 7.9 assists per game this postseason.

James will be guarded by the Hawks' DeMarre Carroll in the conference finals matchup. The 3-time MVP is 6’8” and weighs 250 lbs while Carroll stands the same height but its 38 lbs lighter than James. You can fully expect James to use his weight and size advantage to play an aggressive style of basketball that will consist of him driving the lane plenty of times. The Cavaliers will also rely on James’ ball-sharing abilities  to give the Cavs an edge over the Hawks; a team who moves the ball extremely well. The Cavaliers are looking to return to the finals for the first time since James took them there in 2007, only to be swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Look for James and the Cavaliers to play with an energy and fire that we have not seen in a long time.

Reach Staff Reporter Jeffrey Dubrof Here



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.