Jamal Murray – By Matthew Lucas
Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray are the only players to have scored 50-plus points in multiple games in the same playoff series. Murray not only achieved this milestone, but he also led his team to another one by becoming the 12th team to ever overcome a 3-1 series deficit in the NBA Playoffs.
For those reasons, the Canadian-born University of Kentucky standout has been the best player during the NBA playoffs thus far.
While Murray’s overall stats have shown that a few others have performed just as well, if not better, his increased role and worth to his team has made him stand out.
Through the first seven games, Murray averaged 31.6 points per game, 6.3 assists per game and 5.6 rebounds per game. To accompany that, he shot just under 55 percent overall and a flashy 53.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Putting individual stats aside, Murray had much more to overcome in his opening series than Kawhi Leonard did. Leonard’s second-seeded Los Angeles Clippers got to deal with the Dallas Mavericks, who, out of all playoff teams, had allowed the fourth-most points per game entering the playoffs. Additionally, they were assisted by an injury to Dallas star Kristaps Porzingis.
On the opposite side, Murray and the third-seeded Denver Nuggets dealt with the young, defensive-minded Utah Jazz. The Jazz entered the playoffs as the ninth-best team in the NBA in terms of points allowed, presenting a greater threat to Jamal Murray and the Nuggets’ offense.
While the Clippers won a high scoring and, at times, testy matchup in six games, the Nuggets were busy climbing out of a 3-1 series hole against a team that had everything clicking on both sides of the floor. Not only did Murray lead his team past, but he also did it while facing elimination in three straight games.
In terms of pure statistics, Kawhi may have a slight edge. But when you look at the competition and situation placed in front of each athlete, the answer as to which player has been more impressive is clear. Jamal Murray didn’t just elevate his game on the court – he shined when his team needed him the most.
Kawhi Leonard- By Nick Zoll
Kawhi Leonard has been the most impressive player so far in the NBA Playoffs. Although the second-seeded Los Angeles Clippers were not projected to have much trouble in their first-round matchup, some unique circumstances helped the Dallas Mavericks put up a fight against Los Angeles.
The first obstacle the Clippers faced was a calf injury sustained by Patrick Beverley during game one that kept him on the sideline for the rest of the series. Although Beverley doesn’t typically stuff the stat sheet, the Clippers’ gritty floor general provides an intensity and aggressiveness that could have prevented the series from reaching six games.
The disappearance of Leonard’s partner in crime Paul George also put Los Angeles at a disadvantage. In games two, three and four against the Mavericks, “Playoff P” shot a combined 21 percent (10-47) from the field and the Clippers were remarkably able to salvage one of those games.
In addition, Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis helped the Mavericks become a formidable seventh-seed opponent, and it was starting to spell trouble for the Clippers.
Enter Kawhi Leonard.
Displaying his championship pedigree, the Klaw put the Clippers on his back en route to a 4-2 series win over Dallas. Leonard was a force on the offensive end (32.8 points per game) and showcased his defensive prowess by logging 2.3 steals per game and grabbing 10.1 rebounds per game. In doing so, the two-time Finals MVP continues to bolster his already spectacular playoff resume.
It shouldn’t go unnoticed that star point guard Jamal Murray played some of the best basketball of his life to help his Denver Nuggets climb back from a 3-1 series deficit and win game seven against the Utah Jazz. However, if his counterpart in Nikola Jokic (26.2 points per game against the Jazz) had gone silent as George did, I believe that it would not have been enough to prevail: The Nuggets would be departing the Orlando bubble instead of Utah.
As the Clippers and Nuggets battle it out in the Western Conference Semifinals, Murray and Leonard will both make their case for superiority, but the latter’s ability to take over games by himself makes him the most remarkable player in these Playoffs until further notice.