Erik Johnson advances the puck in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 28, 2018 in Denver.
The numbers are dwindling.
The NBA playoffs began with 13 U.S. Olympic basketball players, and 14 Team USA vets took the ice to start the Stanley Cup playoffs. Now, with the first-round series starting to wrap up, nine of those players have been eliminated.
Not to worry, though, Team USA players still find themselves in key roles for some of the top contenders in each league. We took a look to see how they are doing.
It probably wasn’t the contribution Joe Pavelski (2010, 2014) was hoping for, but when the veteran center went down on a brutal cross-check Tuesday night, something changed for his San Jose Sharks. Trailing 3-0 at home in the third period of Game 7 at home against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Sharks went on a five-minute major power play. By the time it was done, San Jose led 4-3. Although Vegas tied the game in regulation, the Sharks went on to win in overtime to complete a thrilling comeback from 3-1 down in the series. The question now is whether the team will have its captain in the second round against Colorado. Pavelski, who had two goals and two assists in the series, left the game in a daze following the cross-check and subsequent hit that sent him to the ice head first. Although he couldn’t be on the ice for the comeback, his presence was certainly felt.
“The boys, they got together and said, this is for Pavs,” teammate Joe Thornton said. “We love him and it was just a matter of will, and we willed that one for him.”
The Sharks’ comeback changed the narrative of the series. Less than a week ago, Vegas was on the verge of wrapping things up with games to spare, and newcomers Max Pacioretty (2014) and Paul Stastny (2010, 2014) were at the forefront. Pacioretty finished second on the team with five goals and 11 points, while Stastny was tied for third with eight points.
Stay Golden, Golden State
Two-time reigning NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant (2012, 2016) is leading the way once again for the Golden State Warriors, which can clinch a second-round berth with a Game 5 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers tonight. Through four games Durant is averaging 28.8 points, which ranks second in the playoffs, to go along with 5 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks. Of course, on a Warriors team that has won three of the last four NBA titles, he has plenty of help. Klay Thompson (2016) has put up 18.3 points per game, while Draymond Green (2016) has added 12.3 points to go with 7.8 assists and 6.3 rebounds. Veteran Andre Iguodala (2012) is playing a supporting role off the bench. However, Demarcus Cousins (2016) is out with a torn left quad muscle and is “highly unlikely” to return this season, according to coach Steve Kerr, who will serve as an assistant on the 2020 Olympic men’s team.
🚫 Denied 🚫— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) April 23, 2019
Ahead of tomorrow night's Game 5, check out the Dubs best blocks of the series so far ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/czpuNu5HSF
Caps Or Canes?
Something has to give tonight, when the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals host the upstart Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7. Defenseman John Carlson (2014) has been one of the standouts for Washington, averaging a team-high 25:01 of ice time and contributing five assists so far. Fellow Olympians T.J. Oshie (2014) and Brooks Orpik (2010, 2014) have contributed two points each, with Orpik netting the overtime winner in Game 2. On the other side of the ice, Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk (2014) is averaging nearly 25 minutes of ice time himself, while also adding three assists, for a Carolina team that is in the playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons.
Taking Care Of Business In The NBA’s East
Through Wednesday, five of the eight NBA first-round series had been decided. Kyrie Irving (2016) and the Boston Celtics took care of business with a four-game sweep of the Indiana Pacers, with Irving averaging a series-best 22.5 points. Their road gets much more difficult in the second round when they face Giannis Antetokounmpo and the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.
After an injury scare in Game 5, Kyle Lowry (2016) returned for the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday to dish out nine assists in the Game 5 clincher over the Orlando Magic.
The Philadelphia 76ers also clinched their second-round berth on Tuesday with a convincing Game 5 win over the Brooklyn Nets. With teammate Joel Embiid missing Game 1, Jimmy Butler (2016) stepped up, leading the team with 36 points in that game and then averaging a solid 15.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists in the series for the win-now 76ers, who will take on Toronto in the second round.
Kyrie Irving averaged 22.5 points (42.7% FG) and 7.8 assists in Round 1️⃣ 🔥 pic.twitter.com/Mvpuumu7sa— Boston Celtics (@celtics) April 23, 2019
James Harden (2012), Chris Paul (2008, 2012) and the Houston Rockets can secure a spot in the second round with a Game 5 win over the Utah Jazz tonight. Harden has been characteristically dangerous from downtown, nailing 18 3-pointers in four games so far. Only Portland’s Damian Lillard has made more, though he has played in five games. Paul, meanwhile, leads the playoffs with 2.8 steals per game.
In the most competitive NBA series, DeMar DeRozan (2016) and the San Antonio Spurs are trying to hang on against the favored Denver Nuggets. DeRozan tied for the team lead with 17 points in a Game 5 loss on Tuesday, and now the Spurs trail 3-2 in the series. His 22 points and 3.8 assists per game both lead the Spurs, who are in the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive year and are coached by Gregg Popovich, who will also coach the 2020 Olympic team
The Oklahoma City Thunder won’t be around to face the winners of that series in the second round. Despite huge individual efforts from Paul George (2016) and Russell Westbrook (2012), OKC was eliminated when Lillard hit a 37-foot buzzer beater to give Portland the win in Game 5 on Tuesday. It wasn’t for a lack of output from the Olympians, though, as Westbrook has a playoffs-best 10.6 assists per game to go along with his 22.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. And nobody in the playoffs has played more minutes than George, who is averaging 28.6 points per game to go along with 8.6 rebounds.
HARDEN: 1️⃣9️⃣PTS pic.twitter.com/UlKVnt8nOv— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) April 23, 2019
Erik Johnson (2010) and the Colorado Avalanche completed the five-game upset of the top-seeded Calgary Flames on Friday. Johnson, a defenseman, had a goal and an assist as the Avalanche won its first playoff series since 2008.
The Boston Bruins closed out one of the fiercest first-round series with a Game 7 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday. Veteran center David Backes (2010, 2014) was held out of three games, including the finale, but played a key role in Game 2, when he had seven hits and an assist on the opening goal. The Bruins face the upstart Columbus Blue Jackets in round two.
Blake Wheeler (2014) and the Winnipeg Jets were on the wrong side of the upset, falling in six games to the St. Louis Blues. Wheeler, the team captain, had a goal and four assists.
Four Olympians had previously been eliminated: Tampa Bay Lightning teammates Ryan Callahan (2010, 2014) and Ryan McDonagh (2014), and Pittsburgh Penguins Phil Kessel (2010, 2014) and Jack Johnson (2010).