2022 NBA first-round playoff-series MVPs

Jayson Tatum in Brooklyn Nets Vs Boston Celtics At TD Garden
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The NBA awards two (two!) Players of the Week each week of the regular season.

But when the stakes go way up in the playoffs, the league stays silent until naming an NBA Finals MVP.

So, picking up where I left off last year, here are the series MVPs for the first round:

Celtics 4, Nets 0: Jayson Tatum

Kevin Durant is arguably the best player in the world. For all his issues, Kyrie Irving is insanely talented and adept at playoff basketball when on the court, and he was fully available.

But Jayson Tatum was the best player in this series, and it wasn’t particularly close.

Tatum scored 29.5 points per game – including the game-winner in Game 1 – with a 62 true shooting percentage. As Brooklyn helped more on his drives, Tatum showed off his improved passing ability with 7.3 assists per game (albeit with five turnovers per game).

Though he had plenty of help, Tatum spearheaded Boston’s domineering defense on Durant. Tatum and co. held Durant to just 39% shooting with more than five turnovers per game.

Bucks 4, Bulls 1: Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Bucks stumbled at times in this series, especially early.

But nearly never with Giannis Antetokounmpo on the court.

Milwaukee with…

  • Antetokounmpo on: +86 in 168 minutes (positive in every game)
  • Antetokounmpo off: -13 in 72 minutes (negative in four of five games)

Antetokounmpo (28.6 points, 13.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game) just controlled the attack on both ends of the floor. His aggressive drives opened so many positives for the Bucks. Defensively, Antetokounmpo repeatedly shut down the Bulls’ attempts to get inside.

Though not really summoning his best effort in this series, Antetokounmpo still dominated more than enough to get past Chicago.

Heat 4, Hawks 1: Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler thrust the Heat into the second round.

Despite missing Game 5, he still led the series in points (122) and steals (11), tied for second in rebounds (31) and tied for the Heat lead in assists (21).

Sometimes, it seems Butler holds minimal interest in making 3-pointers during the regular season. But he was locked into postseason form from the start, shooting 7-for-16 from beyond the arc (44%).

Even while scoring 45 points in Game 2, Butler was an absolute menace defensively. This was a stellar two-way performance, as his per-game averages (30.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.8 steals) reflect.

76ers 4, Raptors 2: Joel Embiid

Start with the bad news: Embiid left this series with an orbital bone fracture and concussion. But let’s take a moment to acknowledge why that’s such a problem for the 76ers:

Because Embiid is so good.

Embiid (26.2 and 11.3 rebounds per game) crushed the Raptors. He made 61% of his 2-pointers. Toronto kept fouling him, and he kept hitting his free throws (83%). Though playing through a thumb injury hindered him, Embiid is a force.

Suns 4, Pelicans 2: Chris Paul

Chris Paul certainly had his moments in Game 1, Game 3 and Game 5 wins. But a Game 4 clunker (four points on 2-of-8 shooting and three turnovers) and moments of frustration also stood on his resumé.

Then, perfection.

Paul shot a playoff-record 14-for-14 in the closeout Game 6, finally putting together a complete game of brilliance. That splendid final note tied together Paul’s entire series.

In the six games, he averaged 22.3 points – making a whopping 67% of his 2-pointers – and 11.3 assists.

Mavericks 4, Jazz 2: Jalen Brunson

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Dallas will be in luxury tax hell next season.

Jalen Brunson spent this series fanning the flames.

An impending unrestricted free agent this offseason, Brunson really increased his value, thriving both in go-to and complementary roles.

With Luka Doncic sidelined to begin the series, Brunson commandeered the offense. Scoring 41 to lead Dallas to a Game 2 win was the high-water mark, but don’t sneeze at his 31-point performance in a Game 3 win.

Then, when Doncic returned, Brunson slid right back to being comfortable as a secondary playmaker. Brunson scored 23, 24 and 24 points in the final three games.

Brunson finished with a 27.8-points-per-game average, giving teams like the Knicks, Pacers and of, course, Mavericks more reason to pay up this summer.

Warriors 4, Nuggets 1: Stephen Curry

After shaking off the rust in Game 1, Stephen Curry scored 94 points in 91 minutes across Games 2-4 as the Warriors’ microwave scorer.

Obviously, Golden State couldn’t keep bringing its superstar off the bench, and new challenges come with facing opposing starters. Starting and playing 38 minutes in Game 5, Curry really cooled off.

He scored just 30 points.

Jordan Poole had a special playoff debut, shooting better than Curry on 2-pointers (61% to 60%), 3-pointers (48% to 40%) and free throws (85% to 74%). But Curry had a big volume advantage (28 points per game to 21 points per game). Whether Curry is starting or coming off the bench, the Warriors still know which side their bread is buttered on. This is Curry’s team, and he lived up to that billing in this series.

Though not quite up to his MVP standards – which is really saying something – Nikola Jokic (31.0 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game) still did plenty right in a tough situation. But Draymond Green flustered him into too many tough moments. And Golden State could pick on Jokic defensively as a center in a way the Nuggets couldn’t Curry, a point guard.

Grizzlies 4, Timberwolves 2: Desmond Bane

Ja Morant tried to give his Most Improved Player trophy to Desmond Bane. The most obvious reason: Morant is a good teammate who uplifts those around him. But some saw the gesture as fitting because they believe Morant is too good for that award, that Most Improved Player shouldn’t honor a star like Morant.

Well, Bane is pretty darned good, too.

In a wild matchup of young and athletic teams, Bane (23.5 points on 67% true shooting) was the steadiest player. He ran the floor hard, hit his 3-pointers (27-of-56, 48%) and D’d up.

Morant shouldered a larger burden and had some big moments. Even in defeat, Anthony Edwards can make a case. Neither Karl-Anthony Towns nor Brandon Clarke were that far behind.

But Bane’s efficiency, energy and defense make him series MVP.

LeBron James passes Magic Johnson for sixth all-time in assists

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Magic Johnson is one of the greatest, most creative passers the game has ever seen.

Friday night, LeBron James passed Magic for sixth all-time in assists in the NBA. For LeBron, doing that in a Lakers’ jersey like Magic wore was special.

It happened with 8:41 remaining left in the game, LeBron found Anthony Davis for a 3-pointer on the right wing.

LeBron finished the night with 11 assists and 28 points, which along with a monster 44-point night from Anthony Davis led the Lakers to an impressive win over the Bucks in Milwaukee.

 

 

 

Jimmy Butler returns, hits clutch shots to lift Heat past Celtics

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics
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BOSTON (AP) — Bam Adebayo scored 28 points, Tyler Herro had 26 and the Miami Heat completed a split of two games in Boston, beating the Celtics 120-116 on Friday night after Jaylen Brown banked in a long 3-pointer to force overtime.

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup and had 25 points in 36 minutes after missing the previous seven games with a sore right knee. He added 15 rebounds.

“Obviously having JB back is big time for us,” Herro said. “He helps us in so many different ways.”

Kyle Lowry chipped in with 20 points before fouling out in OT for the Heat, who sent Boston to just its second loss in 16 games.

“My team welcomed me back and let me do what I do,” Butler said. “It was a big `W’ for the team.”

Brown sent the game to overtime by banking in his long 3 with 1.7 seconds to play in regulation. He finished with 37 points.

“It felt good coming off my hand,” Brown said. “I know we wanted to get a shot up off the rim as fast as possible, just in case we missed we could get a rebound, a tip out.”

The Celtics had won 10 straight at TD Garden.

Boston star Jayson Tatum scored just 14 points on a cold shooting night, going 5 of 18 from the floor, including 0 of 7 on 3-point attempts. He had 49 points in the Celtics’ 134-121 victory on Wednesday night.

“That’s the biggest thing about the league; you’re not going to stop anybody from just scoring,” Adebayo said. “I feel like (we’re) making him take tough shots every time we play him and living with the result.”

Butler hit a clutch jumper over Al Horford, making it 110-107 with 5.1 seconds left in regulation before Brown took a pass near midcourt, dribbled to his right and nailed his shot.

In OT, the teams were tied twice before Butler nailed a foul-line jumper over Horford with 1:45 left, but Brown hit two free throws to tie it.

Adebayo nailed two free throws and, after Tatum misfired on a 3, Butler hit a jumper to seal it.

“Jimmy made two tough, tough baskets,” Brown said. “That’s just a credit to his work and his skill and his development. He gets going in games like this; on the road in a hostile environment. … Tonight, two shots that in our defensive scheme we could live with, but Jimmy a big-time player made both of them.”

Unlike Wednesday, when shots were open more and both teams were making them effectively (each shot over 50%), defense was tighter and it resembled more of the postseason matchup last season between the pair that went seven games before Boston captured the Eastern Conference title.

Anthony Davis scores 44, outduels Antetokounmpo (40) leading Lakers past Bucks

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Anthony Davis and LeBron James tore apart the NBA’s top-rated defense and gave Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham a triumphant return to Milwaukee.

Davis scored a season-high 44 points and James passed Magic Johnson on the NBA’s career assists list Friday night in the Lakers’ thrilling 133-129 victory over the Bucks.

It marked Ham’s first game in Milwaukee since taking over as Lakers coach after working as an assistant on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff from 2018-22.

Ham and Budenholzer shared a big hug before the game.

“It was a beautiful night,” said Ham, who also played for the Bucks from 1999-2002.

It also was quite a night for Davis, a Green Bay Packers fan who delivered his big performance with Aaron Rodgers in the stands. Davis spoke with the Packers’ four-time MVP quarterback before and after the game.

“I saw him before the game and he said, `I need 30 tonight,”‘ Davis said. “I just saw him and he said, `I only said 30, not 40.’ It’s always good for him to come out and watch the Lakers play.”

James made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:22 left and finished with 28 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He upped his career assist total to 10,144 and moved into sixth place, ahead of Johnson’s 10,133.

“It means a lot, obviously,” James said. “The way Magic approached the game, it was very infectious. His teammates loved playing with him because of the joy he played with and the ability to pass the ball and get other guys involved. He was always excited about seeing his teammates be great. I always admired that in him. What’s even more humbling and super duper cool is the fact that I’m doing it in a Laker uniform and knowing how much Magic means to the Laker franchise.”

The Lakers had the highest point total and field-goal percentage (.536) the Bucks had allowed all season. Milwaukee entered Friday with the NBA’s top defensive rating.

“It was too easy, too easy, too easy,” Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “They were living in the paint. That’s not who we are.”

Los Angeles withstood a 40-point performance from Antetokounmpo, who also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Lakers also spoiled the 2022-23 debut of Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who had 17 points and seven assists in his return from offseason wrist surgery.

Milwaukee missed two potential tying 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds.

After Davis missed a fadeaway jumper, the Bucks called a timeout with 21.4 seconds left and then found an open Grayson Allen, whose 3-point attempt went off the side of the rim.

The Lakers’ Russell Westbrook missed two free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining, but Jrue Holiday couldn’t connect on a 3-pointer with just over five seconds left. Davis made a clinching free throw with 4.5 seconds left.

“Grayson got a good look,” Budenholzer said. “Good execution. Good screening. We’ll live with that shot all the time. And Jrue, similar. We got the kick ahead, playing against a defense that’s not set. Jrue, kind of a good rhythm shot for him. It was contested, but Jrue was 6 of 12 tonight (from 3-point range). He was feeling it.”

Holiday had 28 points for the Bucks, and Bobby Portis added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook had 15 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds for the Lakers.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.