Playoff MVP Race: Despite elimination, Kevin Durant takes top spot (for now)

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Playoff MVP Race: Despite elimination, Kevin Durant takes top spot (for now)

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Playoff MVP Race: Despite elimination, Kevin Durant takes top spot (for now)

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With the Atlanta Hawks joining the Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks in the Conference Finals, we have adjusted our MVP rankings, just maybe not in the way you might think.

That’s because a player who was recently eliminated just took the top spot in our aggregate ranking, despite the fact we won’t be seeing him again until, reportedly, the Olympics.

Below, check out the latest part of our playoff MVP series, as voted on by our team of writers.

1
Kevin Durant (Brooklyn)

Playoff stats: 34.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.5 spg, 1.6 bpg, 51.4 FG%

It’s almost oxymoronic to name a player who was eliminated from the playoffs before even reaching the Conference Finals your postseason MVP, but we’ve done just that this week with Kevin Durant… and can you blame us?

Durant was downright spectacular in these playoffs, but especially late in the series against Milwaukee when it was clear he’d have to do everything if the Brooklyn Nets were to advance.

From Games 5-7 of the conference semi-final matchup between the two contenders, Durant put up astronomical numbers, averaging 43.0 points, 12.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.3 steals while shooting 53.9 percent from the floor and hitting clutch shot after clutch shot just to give Brooklyn a fighting chance.

One of those clutch shots came within inches of sending the Bucks home, too, as Durant’s late Game 7 fadeaway was about one shoe size away from being a three and a series-clinching dagger.

That Game 7 performance was a historic one for Durant, as he became the player with the most points scored (48) in a Game 7 in NBA history.

Now, the next time we’ll see Durant suit up will be in the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer, according to a report from Shams Charania, which is a bit surprising considering the major injury the former league MVP just returned from.

Nevertheless, that just goes to show how healthy Durant feels right now and how comfortable the Nets must be with his health.

And though it may only last a week, for now, Durant is our 2020-21 playoff MVP.

For the latest Kevin Durant rumors, click here.

2
Devin Booker (Phoenix)

Playoff stats: 29.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 5.4 apg, 2.4 3PTM, 49.1 FG%

What a time for Devin Booker to have his first career triple-double: In Game 1 of his first Western Conference Finals matchup in an outing where he also dropped 40 points.

On Sunday, Booker became just the third player with a 40-point triple-double in the playoffs before turning 25, joining Oscar Robertson and Luka Doncic on the list, and likewise, became the third player to do so in Conference Finals, along with LeBron James and Charles Barkley.

If not for Durant’s otherworldly performances last week, Booker would have taken the top spot in these rankings, and if he maintains something close to this level of form going forward, he should overtake Durant by this time next week anyway.

Booker has been that special so far this postseason.

For the latest Devin Booker rumors, click here.

3
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)

Playoff stats: 28.8 ppg, 13.6 rpg, 5.1 apg, 0.9 bpg, 53.3 FG%

Last week saw Giannis Antetokounmpo step up and silence a lot of naysayers, who particularly came out of the woodwork after Game 5 of the series between Milwaukee and Brooklyn, and firmly and unquestionably establish himself as someone who can lead a team to a championship.

In Games 6 and 7, with the Bucks needing wins to stave off elimination, Antetokounmpo was enormous, averaging 35.0 points and 15.0 rebounds over the two contests, shooting over 61.0 percent from the floor and attacking the basket with aplomb to keep the pressure on the Nets defense.

Many stars would have folded after the embarrassment of Game 5, with Antetokounmpo being completely outplayed by Durant, missing a clutch fadeaway over James Harden after Harden instructed teammates not to help, and taking an hour to shoot free throws, a lot of which were misses, but Antetokounmpo did the opposite – elevating his game late in the series instead and punching the Bucks’ ticket to the conference finals, where they’ll be heavily favored over Atlanta.

Antetokounmpo spoke about his team’s composure in the series against Brooklyn after Game 7 (via ESPN):

“We kept our composure throughout the whole series,” said Giannis Antetokounmpo after scoring 40 points with 13 rebounds in 50 minutes that, by the end, had drained him of many of his normal powers. “We were down 2-0, we were able to come back. We lost a game being up 15 [points in Game 5]. And against all odds in Game 7, we were able to come here, guard KD and get the win.”

Now, more pressure awaits Antetokounmpo and Co., as the Hawks are no pushovers, and that, coupled with how heavily favored the Bucks are to advance, means this could be a very tense week-plus ahead for Milwaukee.

For the latest Giannis Antetokounmpo rumors, click here.

4
Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)

Playoff stats: 30.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 4.4 apg, 2.1 spg, 57.3 FG%

Kawhi Leonard appeared well on his way to another unforgettable playoff run, but a knee injury, one reportedly affecting his ACL, has forced him to miss the last two games of the Clippers’ postseason, and head coach Ty Lue told collected media the team is preparing to be without him through the conference finals.

Reggie Jackson said after the team’s Game 1 defeat to Phoenix that the two-time Finals MVP is doing everything he can to return as quickly as possible, but we still don’t know what that means as far as Leonard’s future availability.

What is more certain is that Los Angeles is going to need its superstar forward soon, as the Suns are firing on all cylinders with a playoff MVP candidate of their own leading the way.

For the latest Kawhi Leonard rumors, click here.

5
Trae Young (Atlanta)

Playoff stats: 29.1 ppg, 10.4 apg, 1.3 spg, 41.3 FG%

When the Hawks dropped Game 6 at home to the Philadelphia 76ers, many thought that meant Philadelphia, headed back home for the deciding Game 7, was about to book their ticket to the conference finals.

That was not to be, however, as even despite a porous shooting performance by Trae Young in Game 7 (he went 5-for-23 that night), Atlanta got enough timely scoring and playmaking from their best player to pull out a 103-96 win and reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2014-15.

Head coach Nate McMillan raved about Young after Game 7, telling the media (via ESPN):

“He’s fearless,” Hawks head coach Nate McMillan said. “The opponents have to guard for that. He will take a shot if he is open regardless of how many shots he has missed.” Young finished with 21 points on 5-for-23 shooting (the exact same line that the Milwaukee Bucks’ Jrue Holiday, the opposing point guard he’ll face next, assembled in his Game 7 on the road. Like Young, Holiday redeemed himself with big shots late).

There’s definitely a huge value in fearlessness, as many players would shy away from taking shots late in a game where they’ve shot it so poorly (the Sixers even had a star shy away from a wide-open dunk late in Game 7 despite not shooting it poorly that night), and Young showed just that, making three of his five total field-goal attempts with under seven minutes remaining, including a dagger three-pointer with 2:31 left in the game to put the Hawks up by six.

Another huge challenge awaits Young and Co., but considering what we just saw them do in the series against Philadelphia, it’s impossible to completely count them out against the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals.

For the latest Trae Young rumors, click here.

6
Paul George (LA Clippers)

Playoff stats: 26.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 5.3 apg, 3.0 3PTM, 44.4 FG%

It would have been easy for Paul George, not so affectionately called Playoff P for his postseason failures of the past few years, to mail it in against the Jazz with Leonard sidelined for Games 5 and 6 since expectations for the Clippers were so low by that point.

But the seven-time All-Star did the opposite, elevating his game and that of those around him to lead Los Angeles to its first Western Conference Finals in franchise history, an awesome accomplishment considering the circumstances surrounding the team.

In three games without Leonard this postseason, George has averaged 33.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 41.4 percent from beyond the arc, doing a bit of everything on both ends of the floor for the Clippers, and looking like one of the best players in the world in the process.

Regardless, George might have to be even better for L.A. to have a shot against a red-hot, super talented Suns team, especially if Leonard doesn’t return this series.

We’ll see if the 31-year-old has yet another level in him.

For the latest Paul George rumors, click here.

7
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)

Playoff stats: 28.1 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.5 bpg, 51.3 FG%

Since being diagnosed with a torn meniscus, Joel Embiid remained his dominant self over seven games, averaging 30.4 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.0 blocks and getting the Sixers within one of reaching the conference finals.

Regardless, it wasn’t quite enough, and now, a huge offseason awaits Philadelphia, one that could see a variety of franchise-changing moves reshape the club.

What’s going to happen with Ben Simmons, whose value as a player has never been lower?

Will Embiid sit quietly by and be patient with potential changes, or will he publicly pressure the club, something he has not been afraid to do in the past?

After the Game 7 defeat, Embiid responded to a question about whether he wants the Sixers to look the same in 2021-22 by referring to query as a “tricky” one, noting that loves “all” of his teammates. The star big man also took to social media to apologize to Philadelphia fans for the team’s latest postseason failure:

Impossible to fault Embiid for how the Sixers’ season ended this year, but a superstar’s reputation can only survive so many premature playoff departures without taking a major hit, and even a player as great as Embiid will eventually have to answer if his franchise doesn’t start doing some real winning soon.

For the latest Joel Embiid rumors, click here.

8
Chris Paul (Phoenix)

Playoff stats: 15.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 8.7 apg, 1.2 spg, 50.9 FG%

We haven’t seen Chris Paul play in eight days now due to COVID-19 protocols, though he did make a cameo appearance after Phoenix’s Game 1 win over the Clippers via FaceTime:

Nevertheless, recent reports indicate Paul has been symptom-free while quarantining and that sources expect him to return soon, which is obviously great news for the Suns as they face a tough and weathered Clippers squad in the Western Conference Finals.

For the latest Chris Paul rumors, click here.

9
Nikola Jokic (Denver)

Playoff stats: 29.8 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 5.0 apg, 2.0 3PTM, 50.9 FG%

For the latest Nikola Jokic rumors, click here.

10
Donovan Mitchell (Utah)

Playoff stats: 32.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.1 spg, 43.5 3PT%

Despite being clearly hobbled by an ankle injury throughout the Clippers series, Donovan Mitchell was still fantastic over the six-game series against Los Angeles, averaging 34.8 points and 5.3 assists and shooting 45.0 percent from three.

Unfortunately for Jazz fans, it wouldn’t be enough for Utah to advance, and even in a postseason so wide open after a regular season that saw the team finish with the best record in the league, the Jazz were eliminated before even reaching the conference finals.

Dennis Lindsey, the team’s vice president of basketball operations, called Mitchell’s performance against the Clippers historic while Mitchell’s backcourt partner, Mike Conley, raved about the 2-guard’s ridiculous ceiling:

The analytics may not love him yet, but there’s no doubt Mitchell is quickly becoming one of the best shooting guards in basketball, one who consistently steps up in the playoffs where the lights are brighter and the stakes are higher.

In Mitchell, the Jazz have a legitimate franchise cornerstone and an elite young player to build around.

For the latest Donovan Mitchell rumors, click here.

11
Luka Doncic (Dallas)

Playoff stats: 35.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 10.3 apg, 1.3 spg, 49.0 FG%

For the latest Luka Doncic rumors, click here.

12
Damian Lillard (Portland)

Playoff stats: 28.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 7.5 apg, 4.1 3PTM, 45.1 FG%

For the latest Damian Lillard rumors, click here.

13
Deandre Ayton (Phoenix)

Playoff stats: 15.6 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 71.6 FG%

Suns big man Deandre Ayton makes his way into our playoff MVP rankings for the first time this week, an honor that is beyond warranted considering the double-double machine’s importance to the Suns’ run so far this postseason.

For the latest Deandre Ayton rumors, click here.

14
Rudy Gobert (Utah)

Playoff stats: 14.7 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 2.1 bpg, 74.1 FG%

In Utah’s most important contest of the season, Game 6 on the road against the Clippers facing elimination, Rudy Gobert scored 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, secured 10 rebounds and had two steals… while posting a -24 plus/minus as Los Angeles, led by Terance Mann, corner three’d the Jazz out of the playoffs. Gobert deservedly has three Defensive Player of the Year awards under his belt, but if his postseason career has proven anything, it’s that you can scheme him out of important matchups by playing a 5-out offense, something Utah has been powerless to stop due to Gobert’s lack of a refined post-game on offense. That’ll have to change for the Jazz to become a true threat to upcoming championships.

For the latest Rudy Gobert rumors, click here.

15
Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn)

Playoff stats: 22.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.0 spg, 47.2 FG%

Kyrie Irving ultimately wasn’t able to return from the ankle injury he suffered in Game 4 of the Bucks series, and now we won’t see him play again until next season. How quickly things can change in the NBA.

For the latest Kyrie Irving rumors, click here.

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