Unfortunately, as hard as the Los Angeles Lakers played in the conference finals, a 2010 rematch did not emerge from the conference finals. Both legendary franchises fell to a 3-0 deficit. The Celtics have been holding on for dear life, but should never have been down that bad.
Regardless of the result of the conference finals, here are the players whose effort resulted in a highly entertaining series.
Proof that the playoffs are more about playmaking than efficiency. This is not to say that Butler was reckless or cold from the field, but there were no 56-point games on 68 percent from the field.
What he did instead was make whatever play the Heat needed and operated largely as the best player on the floor. If they needed a basket he would sink it, a turnover he created, an assist he drew in the defense and made the pass. Butler spent a great deal of this series at the free throw line, mostly making up for any tough nights from the field. He proved to be the same terror on the floor whether he makes five field goals or 12. He is the Heat’s star. The living embodiment of “Heat Culture.”
He largely did whatever he wanted to the Lakers in the first half of Game 1. Then the team with the best defensive rating of those in the conference finals put the two-time MVP to work. For those who watch Jokić with any type of regularity, it was unusual to see him unable to assert his will on his opponent for long stretches of action.
In Game 2 he shot a startling 42.9 percent from the field and wouldn’t get to 50 percent for the rest of the series. The Nuggets still managed to sweep the Lakers and Jokić recorded triple doubles in three of the four games. It was his 15-point fourth quarter in Game 3 that put the Lakers in the dreaded 0-3 hole, and he closed the door in Game 4 stifling Anthony Davis in the post along with a 30-point triple double. Jokić had the type of performance that launches great players into pop culture. Viewers get to see the star struggle in real time, and also that athlete come out on the other side successful.
He was on some serious Stephen Curry vibes in this series. The Nuggets’ top scorer in the Western Conference Finals averaged 32.5 points per game on 52.7/40.5/95 shooting splits. Murray struggled on offense in only one game.
Through three quarters in Game 2 he scored 14 points on 5-17 from the field, 2-9 from the 3-point line. It was Bruce Brown and the Nuggets’ starters besides Jokić and Murray who cut into the Lakers’ 13-point lead near the start of the third quarter. Then in the fourth, Murray scored 23 points and missed only one shot. He spent the rest of the series tormenting Lakers fans and defenders with shot making that left everyone’s mouth agape.
He gave the Celtics backcourt the blues throughout the series. One of the Heat’s big-three undrafted players, at times it appeared that he deserved a double team as much as Butler. Through the first four games of the series he shot no worse than 54 percent from the field. Games 2-4 he made at least 63 percent of his shots in each one.
Martin scored in every way possible. Midrange fadeaways, catch-and shoot threes, taking people to the basket, however points were made available in this series Martin took them with great force. The Celtics have a better roster than the Heat, but not when Martin spends an entire series singeing the nets in that way
I swore that he had 30 points in Game 3, but then I looked at the box score later and he only attempted five field goals. Those four makes though, if the referees went Rock and Jock and decided to count them for five each I would not have minded. The hammers that he dropped the heads of the Celtics made John Henry and Thor look like they were swinging something from a tool box.
It was a vicious performance as his teammates poured in the points from elsewhere. Throughout the rest of the series he was the aggressive big that they needed to own the paint. Adebayo is the NBA All Star, not Robert Williams or Al Horford, and he played like it in this series.
Reference material for the only NBA honor that will likely ever be named after Scottie Pippen.
Nikola Jokić won the Magic Johnson Western Conference Finals MVP. The NBA is free to make its choice, but I have mine. If I was an NBA player, watching Murray bury shot after shot would make me more uneasy than poor temperature control in an opposing stadium.
Without his shot making the Nuggets and Lakers are still battling in the Western Conference Finals. He brought the Orlando bubble to Denver and Los Angeles, and rained points like a torrential Florida storm.
Murray is certainly not an ideal NBA defender. At his size he is limited. However, the broadcasters noticed his effort on that side of the ball. Combine that with a 50/40/90 shooting performance while averaging 30 points per game, and that makes Murray the ideal lead guard.