See first-round series MVPs here.
Suns 4, Nuggets 0: Chris Paul
Chris Paul has had a few prominent failings in the playoffs. A ring has alluded him. In fact, his teams have advanced past the second round only once.
But – even counting his foibles – Paul is one of the best postseason players in NBA history.
His command of the game really showed in this sweep. In fourth quarters, Paul scored 43 points on 19 shots with 10 assists and zero turnovers. He ate Denver alive on pick-and-rolls.
Paul (26 points, 10 assists and five rebounds per game) had such a great series, it looked especially devastating for Phoenix when he tested positive for coronavirus afterward. The Suns proved they could win without Paul, beating the Clippers in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
But he makes it so much easier.
Clippers 4, Jazz 2: Paul George
Paul George really struggled in as many games in this series as he was the clearly the best player.
But in this injury-ravaged and uneven series, George (29 points, 10 rebounds and five assists per game) was the most consistent producer. His Game 5 with Kawhi Leonard out was essential to turning the series in L.A.’s favor.
George has taken a sidekick role, to Russell Westbrook with the Thunder then to Kawhi Leonard with the Clippers. He has gotten a lot of flack for his postseason shortcomings.
But it wasn’t that long ago he was the best player on a Pacers team that pushed the eventual-champion Heat to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Once Leonard went down, George returned to that form form to lift the Clippers into their first-ever conference finals.
Bucks 4, Nets 3: Kevin Durant
When he left the Thunder for the Warriors, many critics bemoaned Kevin Durant taking the easier route to the championship. They longed to see him do whatever necessary to lead a team, even if he struggled along the way, because they believed he’d prevail in the end.
With Kyrie Irving sidelined and James Harden hobbled, Durant got that opportunity against Milwaukee.
In Game 5, Durant (49 points, 17 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals and two blocks while playing all 48 minutes) had one of the best playoff games I’ve ever seen.
He was nearly as good again in Game 7 (48 points – including a wild overtime-forcing jumper – nine rebounds, six assists a steal and a block while playing all 53 minutes).
Milwaukee’s defense is awesome. For Durant to do so much was incredible. When he ran out of gas in the end, everyone was just in awe he’d made it that far.
Even in defeat, Durant (35 points, 11 rebounds and five assists per game while playing strong defense) solidified his case as best player in the world.
Hawks 4, 76ers 3: Joel Embiid
In Game 1, Joel Embiid scored 39 points. Philadelphia outscored Atlanta by 13 in his 38 minutes. But the 76ers got outscored by 17 in the other 10 minutes and lost.
In Game 2, Embiid had 37 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks. Philadelphia outscored Atlanta by 11 in his 39 minutes. But the 76ers got outscored by 14 in the other nine minutes and lost.
Philadelphia lost this series because Embiid couldn’t maintain his elite production long enough.
That wasn’t really his fault. Battling a knee injury, he played far better than expected. The 76ers just couldn’t withstand him sitting or, in a couple games, fading to the finish after playing well enough to help them build big leads.
The Hawks winning the series is not enough reason for Trae Young (29 points and 11 assists per game) to win another series MVP, as excellent as he was. Atlanta got outscored by 3.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the court.
Embiid (30 points, 13 rebounds and four assists per game) was slightly more dominant individually. Philadelphia outscored the Hawks by 9.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the court.
Even ailing physically, Embiid was more than good enough in this series. The 76ers weren’t.