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We are very quickly screaming through the NBA Playoffs, and have already seen enough to make any fan get excited about what is to come down the stretch. From the dunks of Giannis Antetokounmpo, to the long-range shots of Steph Curry and Damian Lillard, we have seen it all as we narrow the playoffs down from 16 teams to 8.
We could go on all day about certain plays that stand out as defining moments in a series. There were only so many full individual performances that captured the eyes of the fan, so here are the top 10 performances from the first round of the NBA playoffs:
10. Donovan Mitchell – 31 Points (19 in the last quarter) vs Houston (Game 4)
With the series on the line in front of the hometown crowd, Donovan Mitchell stepped up when he needed to in order to avoid the sweep against Houston. The mixture of a composed scoring performance in the final quarter to go with some great defense saw Utah get over the line in a much-needed win.
Mitchell stepped up with 19 points in the final quarter, including all 3 of his shots from beyond the arc to ensure that the Jazz left Salt Lake City with a chance to claw their way back. It did not work that way, but at the time, it gave Utah plenty of momentum heading back to Houston for Game 5.
9. Kawhi Leonard – 37 Points vs Orlando (Game 2)
Coming off the back of an upset loss at home against Orlando, Toronto had to swing for the fences in Game 2. Enter Kawhi Leonard, who had one of his most efficient performances with 37 points of 15-22 shooting from the field.
In what was a crucial third quarter to gain some more breathing room, Leonard sunk 17 points as Toronto put the dagger into the Orlando defense. He, along with Pascal Siakam, continued to torment the Magic as the Raptors got through to the second round with ease.
8. Ben Simmons – 31 Points, 9 Rebounds vs Brooklyn (Game 3)
Ben Simmons came under heavy criticism after his Game 1 performance against Brooklyn, and responded with a triple-double in Game 2. While that performance was exactly what the doctor ordered, it was Game 3 that shut the critics up.
With Joel Embiid out, it was Ben Simmons who stepped up in both minutes and production. He did that and then some, teaming up with Tobias Harris to start strong and keep it going. 31 points, including a thunderous dunk in the fourth quarter, to go with 9 assists for Simmons firmly put the silence on any critics, while Tobias Harris went for 19 points and 16 rebounds in a stunning 76ers performance.
7. Derrick White – 36 Points vs Denver (Game 3)
Before this game, Derrick White had a career-high of 26 points in a game. In the games after, he had a combined 20 points. Never mind that, the former NAIA recruit had smoke coming out of his fingers from the field as San Antonio went to a 2-1 lead.
Shooting at 71.4% from the field and 83% from long range, Derrick White had a stunning final quarter as Denver tried to keep themselves in the game. Out of the 15 scoring plays in the final quarter for the Spurs, White was involved in 8 of them (scored 10 points with 3 assists). It was a breakout performance from White, with plenty of performances like that in his future.
6. Nikola Jokic – 43 Points, 12 Rebounds, 9 Assists vs San Antonio (Game 6)
If the MVP race continued on into the Finals, Nikola Jokic would be making it a three-horse race. It was difficult to not have his triple-double in Game 7 on this list, but the “Joker” was dominant in Game 6 against a rampaging Spurs outfit.
It was almost impossible to stop Jokic, especially in the last quarter where help was few and far between. Involved in 13 of the Nuggets’ 18 points (10 scored, 1 assist) in the last quarter, Jokic played a one-man game against a team effort from San Antonio.
5. Steph Curry – 38 Points, 15 Rebounds, 7 Assists vs LA Clippers (Game 1)
The Golden State Warriors came into the playoffs as the #1 seed, but they came up against what could arguably be the best bench in the NBA. There needed to be some spirited performances against this Clippers team, and Steph Curry stepped up in style during Game 1.
Fresh off the revelation that Curry started wearing contact lenses to help him see the bucket, he dished out 6 assists to go with 6 points in the first quarter. It took 8:39 for Curry to hit his next bucket, but the last 3:21 of the second quarter saw the Warriors star hit 14 points to ensure that the Warriors ran into halftime with the lead. The rest came in nicely, with a career-high 15 rebounds to go with 38 points on 68.8% shooting from the field.
4. Joel Embiid – 31 Points, 16 Rebounds, 7 Assists, 6 Blocks vs Brooklyn (Game 4)
After spending the aforementioned Game 3 out with injury, Joel Embiid came back for Game 4 and mutilated Brooklyn on both ends of the court. Never mind the fact that Embiid is difficult to contain at the best of times, he showed why the “process” is working in Philly.
Dominating the boards, Embiid had a game-high in rebounds as well as a tied season-high in blocks.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo – 41 Points, 9 Rebounds, 4 Blocks vs Detroit (Game 4)
There is nothing more satisfying for a big man than to dominate opposing players under the rim at both ends, while scoring for fun. Giannis Antetokounmpo did that in Game 4 against a Detroit team that wanted to shoot bullets, but could only offer blanks.
41 points, 9 boards and 4 devastating blocks in only 31 minutes of action shows why Antetokounmpo is neck-and-neck with James Harden for the MVP. If you need any more proof as to why he is #3 on this list, enjoy him putting Thon Maker on a poster:
2. Lou Williams – 36 Points, 11 Assists vs LA Clippers (Game 2)
While the stat line isn’t as impressive as some others, it is the fact that Lou Williams led the Clippers to a 31-point comeback inside the confines of the Oracle Arena. It marked the largest comeback in playoff history, and the best sixth-man in NBA history contributed in a big way.
When the lead was at 31 for Golden State, Williams had 10 points and 4 assists to his name. Over the next 19 minutes, Williams hit 26 points and dished out 7 more assists as the Clippers created history. A 17-point third quarter is what brought Williams and the Clippers back into the game, and it was Williams that took game MVP honors after this stunning performance.
1. Damian Lillard – 50 Points, Series winner vs Oklahoma City (Game 6)
Could it be anyone else? Damian Lillard has been in the elite form over the short span of the playoffs, and this game capped off a huge series for the Trail Blazers star.
17/33 shooting and a 39-foot shot over Paul George for the walk-off series win put the exclamation mark on the series that Lillard had owned from the start. Throughout the series, Lillard shot at 47% from the field. Send him behind the arc, and he still shoots at 45.5%.
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