After naming first-round MVPs, these will be our final series-MVP selections in the 2022 playoffs. The NBA will take over in the conference finals.
Mavericks 4, Suns 2: Luka Doncic
Devin Booker got knocked to the floor and stayed down seemingly longer than necessary in Game 5. As he popped up, Booker called it “the Luka Special.”
Booker inadvertently coined a term to describe Luka Doncic’s extraordinary feats.
Like leading Dallas to win the next two games and upset Phoenix. Like propelling the Mavericks to a 33-point Game 7 victory – the most lopsided road Game 7 win outside the Philadelphia Warriors beating the St. Louis Bombers 85-46 in 1948. Like averaging 32.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 2.1 steals per game in the series.
Doncic tormented the team that passed on him with the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. He wasn’t even hot as an outside shooter (34% on 3-pointers), but he was masterful with his ball-handling, physicality and timing. Picked on defensively in Game 1, Doncic became at least up and down on that end.
The biggest flop was Phoenix, a regular-season juggernaut that got eliminated in the second round by a one-star team.
Heat 4, 76ers 2: Jimmy Butler
“Tobias Harris over me?!” Jimmy Butler yelled as he left the court after Game 6.
The most accurate framing of Philadelphia’s decision to sign-and-trade Butler in 2019? Maybe not.
But Butler earned the right to talk his talk.
Butler (27.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game) outplayed Harris and every other 76er in this series. Butler took over as a scorer while still fitting into the team flow. His defense was superb as usual.
Knowing how to carry out a grudge, Butler got sweet revenge on his former team.
Warriors 4, Grizzlies 2: Stephen Curry
As Stephen Curry was asked how it felt to return to the Western Conference finals, the screen behind him – displaying the NBA playoffs logo – went black.
“Maybe it’s not that special,” Curry quipped.
These Warriors don’t look nearly as special as the teams that won five straight Western Conference crowns (2015-2019). Curry did not overwhelm in this series, shooting just 33% on 3-pointers. Golden State got outscored with him on the floor.
But Curry (26.0 points on 56.8% true shooting and 5.8 assists per game) was steadily excellent enough to lead the Warriors into the Western Conference finals.
Ja Morant (38.3 points, 8.3 assists, 6.7 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game) was the most spectacular player in this series, but he missed the final three games with a knee injury. Good enough to add a layer to the best-point-guard debate. Not good enough to match Curry’s impact in six games.
Celtics 4, Bucks 3: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Jaylen Brown said after Game 7: “Giannis is the best player in the world.”
Even in defeat, Antetokounmpo burnished his reputation.
Milwaukee mounted a far stiffer challenge than expected with Khris Middleton missing the series. That was because of Antetokounmpo (33.9 points, 14.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game).
Boston’s defense is excellent overall, and Al Horford and Grant Williams are uniquely suited to defend Antetokounmpo. Yet, Antetokounmpo found opportunities to get full steam to the rim. When bumped before getting all the way there, he twisted and turned and found the right angles to finish with craft. When enough help came, Antetokounmpo displayed his improved passing vision. Insisting on shooting so many 3-pointers (7-for-28) was a blemish, but Antetokounmpo did more than his share offensively.
Antetokounmpo also helped wall off the paint with his imposing defense. He wasn’t as sharp as he can be defensively. But even Antetokounmpo has physical limits, playing 40 minutes per game in this high-intensity series.
Jayson Tatum (27.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.4 assist per game) makes a strong case for this honor. He outplayed Antetokounmpo in a critical Game 6. But Tatum’s Game 6 performance is legendary in part because Antetokounmpo’s was so amazing, too.
Antetokounmpo established himself in this series as the bar for greatness.