The opening spherical of the NBA playoffs is full. And what a finale it was: a LA Clippers‘ clutch Recreation 7 efficiency towards Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks despatched Kawhi Leonard, Paul George & Co. to a Western Convention semifinals assembly with the Utah Jazz.
Earlier than the Clippers and Mavs duked it out, a number of different stars took care of enterprise within the first spherical: Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks swept the defending East champion Miami Heat, whereas the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers every wanted simply 5 video games to succeed in the convention semifinals.
Within the West, Devin Booker led the Phoenix Suns previous the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and Nikola Jokic‘s Denver Nuggets outdueled Damian Lillard‘s Portland Trail Blazers in two thrilling six-game battles. And Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and the Jazz despatched the Memphis Grizzlies residence in 5 after Ja Morant staged a shocking Recreation 1 upset.
However which of these stars is the MVP of Spherical 1? Our panel of NBA consultants makes its picks.
Doncic set the bar ridiculously excessive throughout his playoff debut final season, placing up huge numbers because the overmatched Mavericks pushed the Clippers to 6 video games within the first spherical. He raised that bar on this postseason’s rematch between the groups, no matter shedding the sequence.
Carrying as heavy an offensive burden as anybody within the playoffs, Doncic averaged 35.7 factors and 10.7 assists, a major bump to his mind-boggling statistics (31.0 factors, 8.7 assists) throughout his first NBA playoff look. And Doncic’s stats on this sequence are skewed by his tough Recreation 4 efficiency, when the cervical pressure in his neck prevented him from even trying to his left with out excruciating ache.
“Oh man, he did every thing,” Clippers star Kawhi Leonard stated.
Doncic did this along with his supposed co-star, Kristaps Porzingis, decreased to a max contract function participant. Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle decided that Porzingis can finest assist the Mavs assault the Clippers’ small-ball lineups by spacing the ground to maximise the room that Doncic has to work his magic.
After all, the explanation that the Clippers scrapped their common beginning lineup to go small is as a result of Doncic is so harmful. He put a bullseye on LA heart Ivica Zubac so typically early within the sequence — exploiting him over and over on switches — that Clippers head coach Ty Lue had no selection however to banish the massive man to the bench.
Doncic, who gained titles with Actual Madrid and the Slovenian nationwide workforce as a teen, craves this sort of stage. He proved that in final season’s playoffs. No, the Mavs did not make it out of the primary spherical, however his Recreation 4-winning, buzzer-beating step-back 3 to cap a 43-point triple-double was one of many bubble’s signature moments.
The Mavs fell brief once more Sunday regardless of Doncic accounting for 77 factors (scoring 46 and doling out 14 assists), essentially the most ever in a Recreation 7.
“Even earlier than this sequence began, I feel he is confirmed he is a top-five participant on this planet,” Carlisle stated. “This sequence definitely validates that.”
— Tim MacMahon
Final summer season, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have been humbled by the Miami Heat within the second spherical of the playoffs. An offseason of introspection adopted, in addition to adjustments to each the roster and Milwaukee’s method. All of it was put to a right away take a look at within the first spherical, when the identical matchup offered itself.
Antetokounmpo responded by main Milwaukee to essentially the most shocking, and most spectacular, results of Spherical 1: a four-game sweep of the defending Japanese Convention champions, together with the ultimate three video games all in runaway trend.
Antetokounmpo’s stat line was removed from excellent — he shot 45.9 % from the sector, and 1-for-16 from 3-point vary — however what stood out about his efficiency was the best way he, and by extension the Bucks, confronted their previous demons.
After being criticized up to now for not taking over the problem of guarding the opposition’s finest participant at occasions, Antetokounmpo guarded Jimmy Butler for a lot of the sequence, and Butler struggled, taking pictures 19-for-64 over the 4 video games. In the meantime, after the Warmth efficiently created a wall that repeatedly annoyed Antetokounmpo in final 12 months’s playoffs, he had a formidable 31-12 help to turnover ratio within the first spherical, together with a 15-assist masterpiece (with simply two turnovers) in Recreation 4.
That sequence alone will not change every thing that is occurred to Milwaukee the previous two years. Solely successful this sequence towards the Nets — and two extra past it — will absolutely change that chatter. However for a workforce that has a lot on the road this postseason, the first-round rematch with the Warmth provided a chance for each Antetokounmpo and the Bucks to supply the identical previous story or to write down a totally new script.
It did not take lengthy for them to indicate this 12 months could also be completely different. And it was Antetokounmpo, as all the time, who led the best way.
— Tim Bontemps
The Maestro of Madison Sq. Backyard impressed in his first playoff look. Analysts lengthy questioned whether or not Younger’s small stature would turn out to be a problem towards defenses that had the chance to plan how one can get the ball out of his arms and offenses that focused him on switches.
To date, the reply is Younger has been higher than ever within the postseason, producing a mixed 52 PPG between his personal scoring and factors generated by his assists, the fourth-highest complete within the opening spherical.
Younger’s end on this record displays each the amount of his contributions and their timeliness. Making his postseason debut, he scored 13 factors and handed out three assists within the fourth quarter of a taut Recreation 1 on the Backyard, capped by the successful floater with lower than a second remaining and the sport tied. All informed, Younger scored 41 factors in 40 fourth-quarter minutes, tied with Memphis Grizzlies guard Morant for essentially the most within the ultimate body in the course of the first spherical.
As spectacular, Younger delivered repeatedly in a hostile atmosphere, with Knicks followers chanting at him from earlier than tipoff to when he shushed them on the finish of Recreation 1 and took a bow following Atlanta’s deciding Recreation 5 highway win. On the NBA’s most famed stage, Younger performed the present from begin to victorious end.
— Kevin Pelton
If anybody wanted a reminder of Leonard’s greatness — and extra particularly, playoff greatness — Video games 6 and seven are the most recent installments into the lore.
The 45-point efficiency in Recreation 6, on 18-for-25 taking pictures, whereas additionally taking over the first second half project of guarding Doncic, must be the form of sport that goes down as an all-timer in a highway elimination sport.
The Recreation 6 wizardry could be moot with out an encore, and Leonard delivered once more. He dropped 28 factors on one other ridiculously environment friendly 10-for-15 taking pictures, including 10 rebounds and 9 assists, together with extra particular person defensive excellence on Doncic (despite the fact that Doncic did rating 46).
For the Clippers, it was a possible defining second for the franchise, backed right into a nook with the memes and jokes able to roll, and the entrance workplace probably tasked with harsh actuality after one other early postseason exit. And for Leonard, too, it may have compelled some sudden evaluations of his future, asking questions of the supporting solid in LA or whether or not this entire factor was the proper transfer in any case.
However Leonard rescued the Clippers from it, at the very least for one more few weeks. He got here alive in the meanwhile the Clippers needed to have him, responding to a subpar Recreation 5 that put their backs towards the wall. He has established himself as one of many gamers to worry most in a Recreation 7, as a result of in a sport that may hinge on emotional momentum swings, Leonard’s robotic killer intuition shines by means of it.
— Royce Younger
Lillard’s 55-point masterpiece in Recreation 5 towards Denver was not sufficient, but it surely does completely epitomize his time in Portland. Regardless of unimaginable performances by their sharpshooting level guard, the Blazers simply can not seem to recover from the hump. The Nuggets gained that marvelous sport, and went on to eradicate the Blazers in Recreation 6.
However here is the factor, Lillard’s unimaginable taking pictures outburst not solely proved he is one of the crucial deadly crunch time performers this league has ever seen, it additionally reminded us he simply does not have a ok supporting solid in Portland. He was the one motive they have been even aggressive on this sequence.
Lillard broke the report for many 3s ever in a sequence in simply six video games, making a ridiculous 44.9% of 78 complete 3-point makes an attempt, which is very spectacular contemplating his taking pictures atmosphere.
His common shot distance on these tries was 28.3 toes, and the overwhelming majority of his makes an attempt have been unassisted. Throughout the NBA, 78% of 3-point makes an attempt are assisted, however simply 29% of Lillard’s 3s in Spherical 1 have been. Of these 79 tries, simply 6 have been catch-and-shoot seems to be.
Lillard hit practically 45% of his triples even though the lion’s share of them got here by way of stepbacks, pull-ups, or dribbling over screens. He was on the market producing his personal powerful seems to be from deep, then knocking them down at scary charges.
–– Kirk Goldsberry
Booker delivered an all-time efficiency in Recreation 6 as his Suns closed out the Los Angeles Lakers within the first spherical. Booker’s 47 factors — on 15-for-22 taking pictures with eight 3-pointers — was a masterful ultimate act as he closed out his first postseason sequence. Oh, and he did it whereas taking part in 46 minutes, staying sizzling till the tip.
Following the sport, Booker informed reporters that he was serious about Lakers legend Kobe Bryant all through the evening and the conversations the 2 had beforehand.
“So seeing that 8 and that 24 up there, with the best way that the lighting at Staples has proper right here, it feels prefer it’s shining down on you,” Booker stated. “And I do know he was right here tonight. I do know he was right here tonight. I do know he is within the constructing. I do know he was proud.”
In response to the Elias Sports activities Bureau, the 47 factors are tied for essentially the most in a participant’s first profession series-clinching alternative. He is tied with Anthony Davis — who performed simply 5 minutes for the Lakers in Recreation 6 earlier than leaving along with his groin harm — who had 47 in a closeout sport towards the Path Blazers in 2018.
Booker scored 30 factors or extra 4 occasions within the sequence and actually needed to shoulder the load for Phoenix as level guard Chris Paul was coping with an injured proper shoulder. After the Suns fell behind the Lakers 2-1, Booker averaged 31.3 factors and eight.3 rebounds on .559/.524/.944 taking pictures splits in Phoenix’s three consecutive wins.
— Andrew Lopez
Others receiving votes: