It's spring: time for winter sports to enter the playoff portions of their schedules. If you're a basketball fan, you're probably thrilled that the National Basketball Association's 2017 playoff schedule began this past weekend. There have been plenty of memorable games so far, but amid the many highlight reel plays gracing our screens, we want to flag the Latino and Spanish players making their presence felt during the march to the June NBA Finals:
Boston Celtics center Al Horford
As the Celtics make only their third playoff appearance under current head coach Brad Stevens, Al Horford is playing a major role. The 30-year-old Dominican contributed 14 points and six rebounds per game for the No. 1 seeded Celtics. They were able to hold off the likes of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Toronto Raptors to claim the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics will lean heavily on the 6-foot-10 inch Horford as they hope to win their first NBA Championship since 2008.
Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez
Standing in Horford's way in the first round is Chicago's own Latino tower of power. Cuban-American Robin Lopez stands 7 feet tall and will give Horford competition in the post. During the Bulls' final four regular season games, Lopez scored a combined 52 points and converted 22 of 42 combined field goals to help the Bulls gain the eighth and final seed in the East. This matchup will be an interesting one.
Atlanta Hawks guard José Calderón
At 35, José Calderón is now just a role player off the bench. But the Spaniard can still contribute in a meaningful way. Having only joined the Hawks in March, he was added to the roster to give the team an extra three-point shot as they make their postseason push. Considering they drew the high-flying Washington Wizards in their opening playoff series, the Hawks will need every bit of offense that Calderón can provide.
San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili
Shifting to the Western Conference now, we find a veteran role player who's a major contributor to his team. Manu Ginobili, 39, is a 14-year shooting guard leading the Spurs' second unit. Averaging seven points, two assists, and one steal per game with a field goal percentage of .390, this Argentinian shows no signs of slowing down, even against a tough team like the Memphis Grizzlies.
San Antonio Spurs center Pau Gasol
Not sure if it's the water in San Antonio, but there's something about the Spurs that turns older players in ageless wonders. Aside from Ginobili, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and David Robinson, current starting center Pau Gasol, 36, can attest to that. The Barcelona native was added to the roster in the wake of Duncan's retirement and he's delivered every night. The 7-foot Spaniard posts near double-doubles (12.4 points, 7.8 rebounds) every time he takes the court, and he has two NBA titles to show for it. That championship experience will be useful as the Spurs look for their first Larry O'Brien Trophy since 2014.
Memphis Grizzles center Marc Gasol
What good would these playoffs be without a little sibling rivalry? That's exactly what you'll see as the Spurs and Grizzlies lock horns over the next week. Memphis will counter Pau Gasol with his little brother Marc Gasol. Marc is younger (32) and bigger (7-foot-1, 255 pounds) and puts up slightly stronger average numbers (19.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game). While the brothers are teammates for Spain's national team, their stats against one another in the NBA are pretty impressive. This series will be very entertaining.
Houston Rockets forward/center Nene Hilario
Here's the man who's probably the most underrated player on this list; he's definitely the most underrated player on his team as he's overshadowed by Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden on most nights. Houston Rockets forward Nene Hilario is not only a force in the paint — he can also hit the 14-foot jump shot as well. Averaging just under 10 points per contest, Hilario is living proof that Brazil is more than a soccer country.