Playoff MVP Race: Khris Middleton making strides

khris middleton game 3 hawks performance 20 fourth quarter points playoff mvp rankings giannis kevin durant

Playoff MVP Race: Khris Middleton making strides


Playoff MVP Race: Khris Middleton making strides

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With the 2021 NBA Finals fast approaching and a new superstar guaranteed to get their first ring this year, the playoff MVP race has never been so hotly contested.

This week, we even have a proven All-Star playing for arguably the top contender remaining making his debut in this ranking series.

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

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)

Playoff stats: 29.2 ppg, 13.0 rpg, 5.4 apg, 1.0 spg, 54.6 FG%

Free-throw line drama and airballed three-pointers aside, Giannis Antetokounmpo has been an absolute force this postseason, attacking the paint with aplomb, hightailing down the floor in transition and causing defensive havoc, putting the Milwaukee Bucks in a good position to potentially win their first championship in decades.

Antetokounmpo is coming off one of his best games of the postseason, too, going off for 33 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals on 61.9 percent shooting in a Game 3 road win over the Atlanta Hawks.

Of course, Antetokounmpo didn’t play the role of closer that night, that job went to his teammate whose name headlines these rankings, but Antetokounmpo could not care less about that – he just wants to win.

Most impressive of all is that Antetokounmpo had that performance despite playing through calf tightness that had been bothering him before the game.

Antetokounmpo and Co. are now merely two games from reaching the Finals, where they face a likely matchup against the Phoenix Suns.

Talk about a thrilling potential series.

For the latest Giannis Antetokounmpo rumors, click here.

Kevin Durant (Brooklyn)

Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

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

For the latest Kevin Durant rumors, click here.

Trae Young (Atlanta)

Playoff stats: 29.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 9.5 apg, 1.3 spg, 42.7 FG%

An unfortunate, unlucky ankle injury hit Trae Young in last night’s vital Game 3 matchup against the Bucks when the star point guard stepped backwards after a turnover and twisted on a referee’s ankle of all things late in the third quarter.

Young clearly wasn’t the same after the injury, one that will get MRI’d today, as backcourt mate Kevin Huerter stated after the contest:

A hobbled Young performing not-at-full-strength for the rest of the series spells huge trouble for the Hawks. Despite the team being deep and talented, Young is the engine that makes the vehicle go, and without him at his best, the Bucks will be too much for Atlanta to overcome.

For the latest Trae Young rumors, click here.

Devin Booker (Phoenix)

Playoff stats: 27.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 4.9 apg, 2.0 3PTM, 45.2 FG%

The Suns, led by star 2-guard Devin Booker, have proven they can win games in a multitude of ways this postseason, including in very ugly, defensive-minded slugfests like Game 4’s road win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

That matchup would end 84-80, Suns, a scoreline reminiscent of a late ’90s NBA playoff game and not one from the modern NBA, but one that was a fun throwback featuring a lot of midrange shot attempts and defense ruling the evening.

After the contest, Booker, who had 25 points and actually fouled out on the evening, would say afterward (via Yahoo! Sports):

“It was an ugly game from the start if you look at it offensively, but we dug in and got stops,” Devin Booker said. “That’s how you win playoff games.”

This Phoenix team has grown up quickly these playoffs, and if they do make it to the Finals as many expect now, it’ll be awesome to see Booker and Co. attack that stage for the first time.

They haven’t been afraid of any team or star player so far, and that isn’t likely to change, even in the championship series.

For the latest Devin Booker rumors, click here.

Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)

Kawhi Leonard

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

Even with the Clippers facing a 3-1 hole in the Western Conference Finals, the team has already ruled out Kawhi Leonard for Game 5 due to the knee injury he suffered late in the series against the Utah Jazz.

He won’t even travel to Phoenix for the matchup, according to Yahoo! Sports Chris Haynes (via RealGM):

Kawhi Leonard is “highly unlikely” to fly with his Los Angeles Clippers teammates to Phoenix for Game 5 on Monday, sources told Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports. “The elevation wouldn’t be good for his knee,” said Haynes. Haynes added that “there is still no definitive word” on Leonard’s status. Leonard hasn’t played since Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals.

That could be it for Los Angeles’ impressive bounce-back season, though crazier things have happened, and if the Clippers can somehow extend the series for another few days, who knows?

Maybe we do see an unexpected Leonard comeback late in theWestern Conference Finals, unlikely as it may appear right now.

For the latest Kawhi Leonard rumors, click here.

Paul George (LA Clippers)

Playoff stats: 26.4 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 5.5 apg, 2.8 3PTM, 42.5 FG%

The trolls will point to Paul George’s back-to-back missed free throws late in Game 2, a matchup that was prime for the taking for the Clippers, as proof that Playoff P is just a self-invented myth, but that wouldn’t be fair in the slightest.

George has done a fantastic job stepping up for Los Angeles since Leonard’s injury, helping lead the team to their first Conference Finals appearance, and win, in franchise history, and not just by scoring, but thanks to his top-notch defense, too.

Since Leonard’s injury, George has put up 29.2 points, 11.0 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.8 three-pointers over six extremely high-stakes games, all while being tasked with guarding elite scorers on the other end.

Leonard’s injury pretty much ended any chance of the Clippers winning a title this season, but at least it gave George the opportunity to prove himself as the guy with Kawhi out, something that could make the two-time Finals MVP more comfortable re-signing with the Clippers this offseason having the confidence that he and George can make a run at a title over the coming years.

For the latest Paul George rumors, click here.

Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

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

For the latest Joel Embiid rumors, click here.

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.

Chris Paul (Phoenix)

Playoff stats: 15.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 8.8 apg, 1.3 spg, 44.6 FG%

Since returning from a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, Chris Paul has shot the ball poorly at 26.8 percent, but he still managed to put up 16.5 points, 9.5 assists and 2.0 steals over the two contests, the latter of which was a huge road win for the Suns, one which has them one game from reaching their first Finals since 1993.

Blossoming big man Deandre Ayton absolutely raved about the impact Paul has had on his career after Game 4:

Booker might be the team’s best player at the moment, but one could argue Paul is Phoenix’s most important player thanks to his table-setting and late-game playmaking and shot-nailing.

Now, we wait to see if this can be the year Paul secures the one thing missing from his legacy: a championship ring.

For the latest Chris Paul rumors, click here.

Khris Middleton (Milwaukee)

Playoff stats: 23.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.7 apg, 1.4 spg, 43.3 FG%

For the first time since the playoffs began, Khris Middleton has found his way into our playoff MVP rankings, and after the Game 3 performance he just had, on the road no less, it was impossible not to put him here.

Middleton finished the contest with 38 points, 20 of which came in the fourth quarter, to put Milwaukee up in the series 2-1.

After the game, Antetokounmpo referred to Middleton’s performance as “freaking unbelievable” and said when he eventually retires, he’s going to miss having the star swingman as a teammate.

High praise from one of the best players in the league for a player who is now proving he can be a championship-level No. 2.

For the latest Khris Middleton rumors, click here.

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.

Donovan Mitchell (Utah)

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

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

For the latest Donovan Mitchell rumors, click here.

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.

Deandre Ayton (Phoenix)

Playoff stats: 16.6 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 70.9 FG%

You’d be shocked to find out this was Deandre Ayton’s first time in the playoffs if you weren’t an avid NBA fan with the level he’s performing at. In the Suns’ potentially series-deciding Game 4 victory over the Clippers, Ayton was magnificent, dropping 19 points, 22 rebounds and four blocks in the four-point victory. Ayton is just the second player since 1983-84 with a 19-22-4 stat line in the playoffs before turning 23, joining Dwight Howard on the list.

For the latest Deandre Ayton rumors, click here.

Rudy Gobert (Utah)

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

For the latest Rudy Gobert rumors, click here.

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