A compelling NBA Playoffs Round 2 has left the basketball community itching for more great series. Phoenix took at the league MVP in four games, the Clippers won four straight to become the first team ever to climb out of multiple 0-2 deficits in the same postseason, Kevin Durant came a couple of inches short of topping the Bucks in Game 7, and Trae Young led his Hawks past the #1 seed out east.
These playoffs are shaping up to be one of the greatest postseasons of all time, and that comes in no small part due to the incredible individual performances we have seen throughout the playoffs. We took a step back to assess the Top 10 (plus one) performances of the NBA Playoffs Round 2.
NBA Playoffs Round 2: Unexpected X-Factors
Before we dive into the Top 10 performance of NBA Playoffs Round 2, it wouldn’t sit right to not even mention two guards that came up huge for respective teams in unexpected ways.
After the Clippers climbed out of their second 0-2 deficit this postseason, they found themselves on the road without their superstar leader, Kawhi Leonard, and the series tied at two games apiece. Paul George may have led the final charge against Utah, but we cannot understate the importance of Reggie Jackson’s unprecedented efficiency over his six second-round games.
He joins Chris Paul as the only players currently shooting 50-40-90 in the playoffs, and he is second on the team in total 3-pointers made behind only Paul George. This level of volume and efficiency was not expected out of Jackson, but the Clippers don’t win the series without it.
With what seems to be a case of major lack of confidence from Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris shooting rather poorly from the field, and Joel Embiid playing on only one good meniscus, the 76ers needed all the help they could get to stay alive in this series. Though they weren’t able to pull out the NBA Playoffs Round 2 series victory, it was not due to a lack of effort or production from Seth Curry.
The shooting guard shot 61% FG and nearly 60% 3P on his way to averaging 21 PPG on 31 total 3-pointers made throughout the 7-game series. He trailed on Embiid in points during the series and led the team by an incredibly wide margin in the 3-point shooting (Embiid made 10). Curry did everything he could to shoulder the load offensively with Philly’s other stars not playing quite up to par. Even if it fell just short, it was a performance worth commemorating.
Kawhi Leonard | 27.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.8 SPG
In only four games played, Leonard amassed 109 total points, giving him an average of over 27 PPG. The Clippers went 2-2 with Leonard on the court, despite his efficiency dropping slightly from the first round. He shot 50% FG, 33% 3P, and 85% FT across roughly 37 MPG.
After an apparent knee injury in Game 4, Leonard was unable to finish the game and missed both Games 5 and 6, both of which the Clippers won to help them advance to their first Western Conference Finals in franchise history. Leonard is the clear leader of this team and did everything he could to dig his team out of the initial 0-2 hole, but it didn’t feel right to include him over other players on this list when he wasn’t present to close out the series victory.
NBA Playoffs Round 2: Top 10
10) Khris Middleton | 24.3 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, 2.0 SPG
After a grueling 7-game series against the overwhelming title favorites, the Bucks eventually came out on top. While Giannis Antetokounmpo is the face of the franchise, Khris Middleton’s ability to run a half-court offense down the stretch was vital in the Bucks’ success. He did not lead the team in scoring, rebounding, or assisting, but his presence could be felt in all three aspects.
He did, however, lead the team in steals and provided valuable breaks for both Jrue Holiday and PJ Tucker as the alternate defender on Kevin Durant and James Harden and different times throughout the series. Middleton also hit big shot after big shot in several games’ clutch moments, keeping the Bucks’ offense afloat with the juggernaut that is (was) the Brooklyn Nets.
9) Devin Booker | 25.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.0 SPG
Booker, still only 24 years of age, is becoming a superstar in front of our eyes. The Phoenix shooting guard put up over 25 PPG en route to sweeping the league MVP, Nikola Jokic, and his Denver Nuggets. Despite this convincing NBA Playoffs Round 2 series victory, Booker has often been labeled as one-dimensional.
His scoring has never been in question but his ability to impact the game outside of putting the ball in the hoop, which, albeit, the most important part of the game, has almost always been overlooked. In this series, alongside his new floor general in Chris Paul, Booker averaged nearly 8 RPG and over 4 APG while being tied for third on the team in total steals with four on the series.
8) Nikola Jokic | 25.0 PPG, 13.3 RPG, 5.8 APG, 1.3 BPG
The reigning MVP of the league had a rough go in his NBA Playoffs Round 2 series versus the Suns. While still managing to average over 13 RPG and 1.3 BPG, Jokic was held to only 25 PPG and 5.8 APG. Yes, I’m aware those are still excellent numbers, but neither are on par with what Jokic accomplished during the regular season. Not to mention it wasn’t enough to give the Nuggets even one single win against the 2-seed Suns.
His efficiency may have hurt the team more than anything else (save for Jamal Murray’s absence). Jokic, typically an elite shooter, finished the series shooting 48% FG, 29% 3P, and 68% FT. Even with the poor shooting performance and series sweep, Jokic’s numbers are eye-popping, to say the least, earning him a spot in our Top 10 performance of the NBA Playoffs Round 2.
7) Giannis Antetokounmpo | 31.9 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 3.6 APG, 57.4% FG
The two-time MVP still has several aspects of his game that need improvement before he can be an undisputed Top 3 player in the league. One of which is his ability to score and/or facilitate in a half-court setting. When close games come down to the wire, Antetokounmpo doesn’t touch the ball on every possession and true superstars should, and it’s even rarer that he is the primary ball-handler on such possessions.
Nevertheless, 32 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 assists per game is nothing to scoff at. Antetokounmpo got the job done throughout each game in the series despite his lack of effectiveness down the stretch of close games. He shot over 57% from the field and averaged one whole block per game against one of the best offenses the league has ever seen. Though he wasn’t the primary defender for either, he also spent time trying to slow down Kevin Durant and James Harden at different points in the series.
6) Paul George | 29.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 4.8 APG, 42% 3P
Paul George, A.K.A. Playoff P, silenced a lot of doubters still lurking from his forgettable performance last postseason. When Leonard went down in Game 4, leaving the Clippers to win two of their next three games with only one being at home, the Clippers looked like they might be dead in the water. George had other plans, however, as he took over the primary ball-handler role and led his team in scoring (29.0 PPG), rebounding (9.5 RPG), and assists (4.8 APG) to go along with 1.0 SPG and 0.5 BPG.
George may not have made every right decision down the stretch of games, as can be seen by his 23 turnovers through six games, but he shot 41.7% from distance and led his under-manned squad to a come-from-behind NBA Playoffs Round 2 series victory for the history books. Anyone still debating Paul George’s ability to perform in the postseason needs to put down their phone and watch this 7x All-Star’s playoff performance in 2021.
5) Joel Embiid | 30.4 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.0 SPG
Embiid showed a lot of toughness and grit in the NBA Playoffs Round 2 matchup versus the Hawks. He played with a torn meniscus, didn’t get much help from his co-stars, and still managed to score over 30 points per contest and force Atlanta to beat them in seven games. He accumulated a series-best 213 points over seven games and averaged an impressive 2.0 BPG and 1.0 SPG from the center position.
Despite a stellar regular season in terms of overall efficiency, Embiid failed to shoot even 47% from the field or 36% from distance against Atlanta. He still managed to be second on the team in total 3-pointers made with 10 (behind Curry’s 31) and showed his dominance in the post on more than one occasion. His over numbers look good, the determination in his injury-riddled performance is evident, and despite the loss, Embiid’s performance should not be considered the main reason for Philly’s postseason departure.
4) Trae Young | 29.0 PPG, 10.9 APG, 1.7 SPG, 32.3% 3P
Trae Young, a 22-year-old point guard, led his young squad past the 1-seed 76ers to reach his first Eastern Conference Finals of his young career. He averaged almost 30 points and 11 assists per contest, trailing only Embiid for the most total points in the series. One of the biggest knocks on Young’s ability is his poor defense. While he still may not be the best perimeter defender, Young led his team in steals per game with 1.7, showing his ability to contribute on both ends of the floor.
Despite his stellar performance, it should be noted that Young shot only 39% from the field and 32% from beyond the arc. He struggled to shoot with any consistency throughout the entire series but continued to use his skill set, IQ, and confidence to positively impact the series. He still ran the offense, dished 11 APG, took (and made) big shots in clutch moments, and led his team to an NBA Playoffs Round 2 series victory.
3) Donovan Mitchell | 34.8 PPG, 5.3 APG, 5.0 RPG, 45% 3P
Speaking of efficiency, you won’t find many guys who had a more efficient NBA Playoffs Round 2 than Donovan Mitchell. The 24-year-old combo guard led his team in scoring with 34.8 PPG while shooting 45% from the field and beyond the arc. He made 36 3-pointers in six games, far and away more than anyone else on these two elite 3-point shooting teams.
Mitchell also impacted each game with his ability to handle the ball during Mike Conley’s absence, accumulate 5.3 APG and 5.0 RPG, and hold his own on the defensive end against the Clippers’ offensive-oriented guards. Mitchell scored nearly 35 points per contest with the likes of Paul George, Patrick Beverley, and Terance Mann defending him, not an easy task for any player in the league.
2) Kevin Durant | 42.7 MPG, 35.4 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.1 BPG
How does a guy who averaged over 35 PPG, 10 RPG, and shot nearly 50% FG and 35% 3P not earn the top spot on our list? Long story short, he didn’t win. What Kevin Durant did will go down as one of the greatest losing efforts in a single playoff series of all time. He dominated games in ways a 7-foot shooting guard can.
With Kyrie Irving completely sidelined and James Harden visibly hobbled by a hamstring injury, Durant found himself as the undisputed #1 scoring option at any given point in the series, and he responded in the biggest way possible. After the Bucks tied the series at 2-2, Durant went nuclear. He played every single second of Game 5 and tallied a 49-point, 17-rebound triple-double to go along with 3 steals and 2 blocks. Durant’s Game 5 is already one of the greatest single-game playoff performances of all time.
This goes without mentioning that he once again played every single minute, yes, all 53 of them, in the Nets’ game seven loss to the Bucks. Durant put up 48 points in the loss, the most by any player ever in a Game 7, and added nine rebounds and six assists. In perhaps one of the most heartbreaking moments in Nets’ history, Durant nailed a game-tying shot at the end of regulation that was mere inches away from being a 3-pointer and potentially ending the series.
It cannot be stated enough that the only reason Kevin Durant is not #1 on this list, along with the actual performance of our #1 player, is that he did not advance to the Conference Finals as our #1 player did.
1) Chris Paul | 25.5 PPG, 10.3 APG, 1.5 SPG, 62% FG, 75% 3P, 100% FT
In a series sweep over the reigning league MVP, Chris Paul put up what can only be described as god-like efficiency. Paul played nearly 36 minutes per game for four straight games, accumulated 41 total assists, and only turning the ball over five times. Yes, you read that right, Paul’s assist to turnover ratio was 41:5 in this series.
Averaging 10.3 APG is impressive in itself, but doing so while consistently taking care of the basketball against round-two-of-the-playoffs-caliber talent is other-worldly.
Amazingly, Paul’s most impressive efficiency numbers aren’t even the assist/turnover stats we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from him. No, Chris Paul not only led the charge from a facilitating perspective, but he also led his team in scoring (25.5 PPG compared to Booker’s 25.3) while demonstrating perhaps the most efficient shooting ever seen in a single playoff series given his volume of shots.
The 35-year-old point guard shot 62.7% from the field, 75.0% from the 3P line, and a perfect 100% (22-22) from the charity stripe across the Suns’ four-game series sweep. And to think, we thought the 50-40-90 club was impressive.
Paul’s unearthly efficiency to lead his Suns to the only sweep of the NBA Playoffs Round 2 is utterly amazing. Now, Phoenix hopes to get their point guard back from the COVID Health and Safety Protocols soon to see what he has in store for his former team, the LA Clippers.
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