The 2017 NBA Playoffs came to an end in Oakland, but it had its fair share of incredible moments.
Maybe you thought the playoffs were boring because you knew the outcome. That’s fine, but the inevitability didn’t take away from great players doing great things and, beyond all the blowouts and sweeps, a handful of teams combined for entertaining series that distracted us from anything else.
Some were tear-jerking. Others were shootouts. A couple lasted for just one game with another few maintaining mind-boggling stat lines for an entire series. Regardless of how unimpressed with the playoffs you were, it’s silly to overlook select parts.
Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s First-Round Explosion
We all know about Giannis’ incredible regular season. His improvement was so sudden and so intense that it’s easy to forget he hasn’t entered his prime yet, and dominance in every facet of the game makes him the favorite to bring home the Most Improved Player award. The Milwaukee Bucks had a decent year and finished 42-40, a record good enough for the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t wait to see Giannis in the playoffs. And it was a disgrace having most of the games broadcast on NBA TV.
The tone was set in the opening contest. Giannis was going to dominate, and it would come down to the Bucks supplying enough additional firepower to outlast Toronto. Milwaukee dragged the series to six games, and Antetokounmpo was easily the best player.
In 40.5 minutes a night, he averaged 24.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.7 blocks. There was no hiccup from the regular season to the playoffs, and he remained efficient even with the increased workload. In Game 6, where the Bucks lost 92-89, Giannis had an incredible outing and finished with 34 points and nine boards, but poor free throw shooting was the ultimate killer. He shot 7-of-13 in that game and 25-of-46 for the series.
With that, the great still managed to outweigh the bad, and Giannis has put himself in the position to be a dominant force no matter the climate. He also did this without Jabari Parker, and Milwaukee knows for certain that they can know rely on him as the franchise player. My only hope is that they don’t take this for granted.
Paul George Duels LeBron James
The Indiana Pacers were the first team to feel the wrath of LeBron and his Cavaliers. James was unstoppable, and that’s worthy of a separate piece. On the Pacers’ side, they had George, who wasn’t too far off from James statistically. He put up 28.0 points to James’ 32.8, 8.8 rebounds to his 9.8 and 7.3 assists to 9.0. That’s commendable, particularly because George hasn’t yet taken the leap to being a superstar.
All four contests were close, and Indiana lost the four games by a combined 16 points. From those, George got loose in the third game, and it was a thriller where he and LeBron just went back-and-forth all night long.
George’s final line included 36 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists, while James went for 41, 13 and 12. It wasn’t the first time PG elevated his game when going up against the King, and he played a nearly perfect game. The officials were whistle-happy for both teams, and George picked up four fouls because of it. However, he used that his advantage and went 11-of-11 from the line while James struggled mightily going 7-of-14.
Also Read: Paul George Believes He’s An All-NBA Player
Both guys made smart decisions with the basketball and did what they had to to make their teammates better. We’ve seen this from James routinely, but not so much George. For his nine assists, he had just one turnover.
The biggest issue with George’s performance was his terrible shooting from the field, and he literally couldn’t buy a basket. When the buzzer sounded, George left the floor with 18 misses on 28 attempts, and that included clanking 10 of his 15 looks from downtown.
It was reminiscent of the days when Indy was the only threat to the Miami Heat. We hoped for them to meet in a Conference Final at the start of the decade, and maybe we’ll get lucky enough to see that again if the Pacers can make another move or two to give George the contender that he wants.
Joe Johnson’s Game-Winner Against The Clippers
I can’t believe Joe Johnson made a significant impact in the playoffs. There must’ve been a time machine in the STAPLES Center locker room because Johnson went in and came out like he was 10 years younger.
He buried a game-winner in the series-opener. That’s incredible. What’s more incredible is that he took the last shot instead of Gordon Hayward, who had Chris Paul guarding him. But wait, I’m not done yet. Iso Joe finished the game with 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting and wasn’t reliant on the three-ball. Only four of his looks came from downtown, and the Clippers seemingly didn’t have an answer for him.
It was just really bizarre seeing Johnson play at that level because he didn’t consistently do it during the regular season, and he went on to score 28 points in Game 4. During the regular season, he eclipsed the 20-point plateau three times.
LaMarcus Aldridge’s Huge Series-Clinching Performance
Aldridge might be the easiest guy to pick on. He was thrown into the San Antonio Spurs system and has looked off ever since he got there. On multiple occasions, he came up small. In Game 6 against the Houston Rockets, he was the polar opposite. What made this even more impressive was the absence of Kawhi Leonard. If I were a Spurs fan, I would’ve been apprehensive heading into this game.
San Antonio blew out Houston, 114-75. And Aldridge was the best player on the floor. That same court had MVP candidate James Harden and Sixth Man of the Year nominee Eric Gordon (who got the start that night) playing on it. The two totaled 16 combined points 4-of-20 shooting. Aldridge went for 34 points and added 12 boards. Additionally, he shot 16-of-26 from the floor and only attempted two free throws. Aldridge was so good that he even made an impact on the defensive end, and his defensive rating was 86 points allowed per 100 possessions.
Since Houston isn’t known for their defense or for playing a slow pace, the Spurs capitalized. They kept the Rockets out of transition and slowly killed them with their half-court offense. Aldridge is a good player even on his worst days, and this was one of the nights that makes you remember he had gone to five straight All-Star Games.
Kelly Olynyk’s Best Larry Bird Impression
What if I told you that Olynyk was the second-best player for the Boston Celtics in a Game 7? How quickly would you want to drug test me? Well… it’s true. Back in the second round, John Wall hit a game-winning three to force the seventh game, and Kelly Bird went on to deliver the most improbable performance.
He had 26 points on an incredible 10-of-14 shooting. Isaiah Thomas had just three points more and didn’t shoot nearly as well as Olynyk, and Wall also had a poor night shooting and buried just 8-of-23 en route to 18 points. (He handed out 11 dimes to offset that.) Of Olynyk’s 26, 14 of them came in the fourth quarter, and nothing is weirder than seeing Thomas, or “Mr. Fourth Quarter” as he’s known in Boston, actively deferring in the final period. Of course, it was the right thing to do. He didn’t let his ego get in the way.
Olynyk and Thomas became the eighth and ninth Celtics to have at least 25 points in a Game 7 victory. This same list includes the likes of Larry Bird, John Havlicek, Sam Jones and Bill Russell. I don’t think anyone — in their wildest dreams — would imagine names like that next to Olynyk’s.
LeBron James’ Finals-Long Triple-Double
In any other postseason, this would be number one. On here? It’s third. Take my word for it — the other two are well-deserving of being above this. We know how incredible Kevin Durant was in the Finals, but it was James who made history. Never before had someone averaged a triple-double on the NBA’s grandest stage.
And it still wasn’t enough to bring home a title. In the five games, James put up 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists a night while also shooting 56.4 percent from the field. It was marvelous. You could count on him to show up each night, but even the greats can’t do it all by themselves.
I don’t believe it’s necessary for me to gush over this for as long as I did with the others. If you watched the Finals, you know how great James was.
Isaiah Thomas’ 53-Piece
Just spectacular. The news of Chyna Thomas passing away shook Isaiah to the core, and you couldn’t help but root for him. When he took the floor in Game 2 of the second-round, it was his night. The Wizards couldn’t stop him. In fact, only having him on the bench could slow him down.
Also Read: Relive Thomas’ Heroic 53 Point Outburst
Chyna would’ve been 23 on May 2. On top of that, Isaiah spent hours in a dentist’s chair undergoing oral surgery to help fix the tooth that got knocked out.
He finished with 53 on 18-of-33 shooting, including 12-of-13 from the free throw line. Boston escaped with the 129-119 victory, and the smallest guy ever to play in a playoff game for the Celtics had one of the franchise’s most memorable moments. And there’s a case to be made that it was this season’s best story.
Kevin Durant’s First Title
Whatever it took, Durant finally got it. He went to Golden State, and he was the difference-maker. If the Warriors entered the Finals with the same roster as last year, I don’t think they’re beating the Cavaliers — hell, I picked Cavs in seven this year. KD showed us why he’s the only player who can challenge James as the league’s best, and nothing was stopping him from holding up the Larry O’Brien trophy.
He finished the five games with 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 blocks and had shooting numbers that were incomprehensible. Durant’s true shooting percentage was 69.8 percent, and that’s a metric that takes twos, threes and free throws into account.
There wasn’t any part of the game that Durant didn’t impact. Not only did he score, he displayed the best decision-making we’ve seen from him, and all of that offensive explosion didn’t come at the expense of his defense, which was also remarkable.
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