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Is Reggie Jackson’s Postseason Heater Unprecedented?

Sixteen months after being waived by the Pistons, Jackson is now a go-to guy for a Clippers team looking to dig itself out of a third straight 0-2 hole

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Reggie Jackson didn’t start the Clippers’ first two playoff games this season. Patrick Beverley was the starter, trade deadline acquisition—and noted playoff overachiever—Rajon Rondo was the backup point guard, and Terance Mann was the wild card clamoring for increased minutes off the bench. It wasn’t clear how much run Jackson, a 31-year-old playing on a veteran’s minimum contract after flaming out in Detroit, would receive—or even deserve, given the stiff competition.

Fast-forward a few weeks, and Jackson’s unexpected heroics have been a driving force behind the Clippers’ comebacks from not one, but two 0-2 deficits this postseason, and have helped keep L.A. alive in the Western Conference finals even with Kawhi Leonard hurt.

Jackson entered the starting lineup in Game 3 against Dallas, catalyzing the Clippers’ first turnaround, and he’s remained a starter every game since. Both his playing time and his scoring have increased every round.

Since Leonard last played a game, Jackson ranks second to Paul George on the team in minutes, points, and assists, and leads in plus-minus. He leads all players this postseason in made 3-pointers, with 56, or 3.1 per game. And he still plays with the fearless, boundless confidence of a guard who once thought he deserved to start over Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. He is, as the other Reggie Jackson would say, the straw that stirs the Clippers’ drink.

So where did this Jackson performance come from? The NBA’s “Mr. June” is not too different of a player this postseason versus the regular season. He’s taking more 3-pointers in the playoffs, with more than half of his shots now flying from beyond the arc, and he’s finishing better at the rim and in the midrange. But his overall shooting numbers don’t seem like a wild fluke; in fact, he hit a higher percentage of his 3s in the regular season (43.3 percent) than the playoffs so far (41.5 percent).

Even his usage rate in the playoffs (22.6 percent) is close to his regular-season rate (19.5), so it’s not as if he’s dominating the ball to an unhealthy degree. He’s enjoying a bit of a hot streak from 2-point range, sure, but mostly he’s just playing more, taking advantage of an extra 10 minutes per game.

The results, for Clippers fans and Jackson himself, have been glorious in both quantity and quality. For instance, Jackson has already tallied nine games this postseason with 20-plus points—versus just seven in the entire regular season. According to data provided by Basketball-Reference, Jackson is the first player in NBA history with so many 20-point games in the playoffs after so few 20-point games in the same regular season.

More 20-Point Games in the Playoffs Than Regular Season

Player Postseason Playoff 20-Point Games Regular Season 20-Point Games
Player Postseason Playoff 20-Point Games Regular Season 20-Point Games
Reggie Jackson 2021 9 7
Robert Horry 1995 6 2
Ernie Grunfeld 1981 6 4
Jameer Nelson 2010 6 5
Glen Davis 2009 5 3
Tim Thomas 2006 5 3
Kawhi Leonard 2014 5 3
Cliff Hagan 1957 5 1
Bob McAdoo 1982 5 4
Mervin Jackson 1970 5 4
Data provided by Basketball-Reference

Jackson is averaging 18.1 points this postseason, well ahead of the 10.7 he averaged in the regular season. The 7.4-point increase is strong but not unprecedented, ranking 24th all time among players with at least 10 playoff games in a season.

But comparing Jackson to every other player doesn’t quite capture his surprising rise. In 1964-65, for instance, Jerry West scored 31 points per game in the regular season, then jumped to 40.6 points per game across two playoff rounds. That’s a massive increase, yet it’s also not really in the same realm as Jackson’s boost. West was already scoring like a star in the regular season; before the playoffs, Jackson was more or less a steady hand at the back of the rotation.

So, limiting the pool of players to only those who averaged fewer than 15 points per game in the regular season, Jackson in 2021 jumps up to 11th place on the leaderboard.

Biggest Playoff Scoring Boosts in a Single Season (Min. 10 Games)

Player Year Playoff PPG Regular Season PPG Difference
Player Year Playoff PPG Regular Season PPG Difference
Cliff Hagan 1957 17.9 5.5 12.4
Johnny Moore 1983 22.5 12.2 10.2
Ernie Grunfeld 1981 16.8 7.5 9.3
Glen Davis 2009 15.8 7.0 8.8
Reggie Jackson 2013 13.9 5.3 8.6
Tom Meschery 1962 20.1 12.1 8.0
Si Green 1960 14.1 6.1 7.9
Blair Rasmussen 1986 11.1 3.2 7.9
Sidney Moncrief 1987 19.4 11.8 7.6
Jerome James 2005 12.5 4.9 7.5
Reggie Jackson 2021 18.1 10.7 7.4
Bill Bridges 1966 20.3 13.0 7.3
Bob McAdoo 1982 16.7 9.6 7.2
Chet Walker 1965 20.3 13.2 7.1

No, you’re not seeing double—there really are two Reggie Jackson playoff runs on here. The first comes from 2012-13, when the second-year guard took over as the Thunder’s starting point guard in Game 3 of the first round after Beverley’s aggressive defense caused Westbrook to tear his meniscus. Despite never starting a game in his NBA career to that point, Jackson proceeded to score in double figures in all nine of his starts that postseason.

Yet beyond these two resplendent postseasons, Jackson hasn’t been much better in the playoffs than in the regular season. Last postseason, for instance, Jackson was fine against the Mavericks in the first round but scored just three total points across six games against the Nuggets, as he fell out of Doc Rivers’s rotation.

Overall, Jackson has scored 12.9 points per game in his playoff career, versus 11.5 in his regular-season career (weighting by the number of playoff games he played each season). That’s only a small boost. For comparison, 11 players with at least 20 career playoff games have increased their playoff scoring average by at least three points per game, with a trio of modern stars all ranking in the top four. (Luka Doncic would also be with this group at the top if he had played more games in the postseason.)

Biggest Playoff Scoring Boosts in a Career (Min. 20 Games)

Player Seasons Playoff PPG Weighted Regular Season PPG Difference
Player Seasons Playoff PPG Weighted Regular Season PPG Difference
Fred Carter 1970-77 15.9 10.0 5.9
Jamal Murray 2017-21 24.3 18.4 5.9
Donovan Mitchell 2018-21 28.8 23.5 5.3
Nikola Jokić 2016-21 25.9 21.5 4.4
Tom Meschery 1962-71 16.3 11.9 4.4
Roy Tarpley 1987-95 17.0 12.9 4.0
Woody Sauldsberry 1958-66 13.2 9.7 3.5
Derrick Rose 2009-21 22.4 19.0 3.3
Bernard King 1978-93 24.5 21.3 3.2
Blair Rasmussen 1986-93 11.9 8.7 3.2
Maurice Cheeks 1979-93 14.4 11.3 3.1

Jackson isn’t close to this group over his full career—but for a Clippers team aiming for yet another comeback, and for a Suns team aiming for its first Finals appearance in 28 years, and for Jackson himself, aiming for a lucrative new deal in free agency this summer, none of that broader history matters.

What matters is that Jackson this month looks like the ultimate irrational confidence guy—or, actually, a very rational confidence guy, given his continued success. The Clippers wouldn’t still have a chance without him.