X Factors of the Western Conference Playoffs
by: David Sun
Behind the scenes of the glorified NBA finals, where the Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors duel it out for the championship, are the players who left their marks on the previous playoff matches but could not make it out to the big spotlight. Nevertheless, each of those teams had an X-factor, a player that could make or break a season. In lieu of the Finals, we look back at each playoff team in the Western Conference and their X-factor that resulted in the playoff results we see today.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Los Angeles Clippers:
Shai’s first playoff taste as a rookie made him an important part of the Clippers’ chances at a playoff run. Towards the end of the regular season, SGA started to produce as a legitimate point guard and would have made an impact if he had continued doing as such throughout the playoffs. Throughout the series, Gilgeous-Alexander showcased his importance as an X-factor, making smart decisions and facilitating a playoff flow that stole the Clippers two games from the Warriors. The young guard looks promising and may act as an important starter for years to come.
Derrick White, San Antonio Spurs:
Quietly posting a strong season for the Spurs and even usurping the starting role, White had a lot to prove in how he responded in his first true load of playoff time. As an X-factor, Derrick White was indubitably important to the Spurs’ extension to a seven-game series against the Nuggets. From scoring 36 points in an important Game 3 to providing defense against the loaded Nuggets roster, White proved that he could dictate the playoff series and almost pushed the series along with his teammates to an upset.
Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets:
While most expected Jamal Murray to deliver in the Nuggets’ first playoff appearance since 2013, Murray exceeded expectations and cemented himself as a true X-factor for the Denver Nuggets, especially in his offensive prowess. Murray delivered postseason breakout performances that solidified his reputation as a scorer and secondary threat along with Nikola Jokic. His play changed the series time and time again, as when Murray delivered, the Nuggets won, and when Murray took a step back, the Nuggets struggled.
Dennis Schröder, Oklahoma City Thunder:
Because of his streaky shooting and ability to command the floor, Schröder immediately becomes an X-factor to the Thunder. In their series against the Portland Trail Blazers, Schröder demonstrated that he could step up when Russell Westbrook and Paul George needed another threat, and that how he played could impact the series’ result. In retrospect, Schröder was a factor in the Thunder’s loss to the Blazers.
Rodney Hood, Portland Trail Blazers:
Rodney Hood shined in his playoff appearance against the Denver Nuggets, showcasing the most prime example of his position as the Trail Blazers’ X-factor. Hood showed that he could single-handedly change the outcome of a playoff series with his huge shots and impact on the floor.
Jae Crowder, Utah Jazz:
Defensive-minded and as impactful as, if not more than, any other player on the Jazz, Jae Crowder demonstrated his importance in being a threat on both sides of the ball. Though the Jazz’s matchup against the Rockets fell short, Crowder definitely used the tips he received from Patrick Beverley in defending James Harden.
Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets:
Gordon was one of the most important X-factors for a playoff team, especially in the Rockets’ playoff rematch against the Golden State Warriors. With him hitting shots, the Rockets lifted themselves above the Warriors for two big games, putting Gordon at the forefront of X-factor stardom. His streaky scoring was vital to the Rockets’ chances, evidenced in the differences between the Rockets’ wins and losses: when Gordon scored, the Rockets won. When Gordon didn’t, the Rockets lost. Through that series alone, Gordon reinforced his place as an impactful X-factor for the Houston Rockets.