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NBA Playoffs: First Round star performers

The opening two weeks of the NBA Playoffs have been fantastic, with seven of the eight first round series now wrapped up.

We’ve seen headlining grabbing displays from superstars, some stellar breakout performances and some surprise names stepping up to decide games.

Below are five of the standout players from this year’s first round.

Jimmy Butler

Where else to start but with the man who essentially single-handedly sent the Milwaukee Bucks home? Jimmy Butler helped the Miami Heat to a 4-1 win over the Bucks, one of the rare occasions where a 1-seed failed to make it out of the first round.

With Tyler Herro featuring for just the first 24 minutes of the series, Butler had to step up - as he tends to do at this time of year. Butler is a different animal in the playoffs, highlighted by his 56-point game in their Game 4 victory.

Butler leads the postseason in terms of points per game, with 37.6. He leads Miami into the second round as the clear driver of their playoff hopes. It speaks volumes that Butler’s price of 12/1 to win the Eastern Conference Finals MVP is nearly the same as Miami’s 11/1 price to win the conference.

If the Heat are going to get there, they need Butler to be the one pushing them on. While credit should go to Erik Spoelstra for making the most out of the supporting cast, Butler was the biggest standout of the first round.

Devin Booker

In the west, Devin Booker had his own stellar run, posting 38, 45, 30 and 47 points as the Phoenix Suns raced back from 1-0 down to take the series against the LA Clippers.

Booker’s role has changed in the wake of Kevin Durant’s arrival in Phoenix, with KD now the main focus of opposing defences. Adding Chris Paul in the 2020 offseason already moved the creative burden off Booker, so he’s now in a position where he just needs to go out and get points.

The guard hit 50% or more of his threes in three of the five clashes with the Clippers. While his second-round start was a bit slower, the positive for Phoenix is that he grew into the last series to drive the Suns into the conference semis.

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Jamal Murray

Jamal Murray was able to get the better of his duel against Booker on Saturday, building on a strong run of performances in the first round.

The Denver Nuggets point guard is a welcome return to the postseason, having missed the previous two playoff campaigns through injury. He picked up where he left off in the Bubble, decisively turning the tide for Denver in Games 2 and 5 against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Having Murray back to his best in the playoffs is huge for the Nuggets, who were dumped out in the first round a year ago with Nikola Jokic on his own. The two-time MVP is probably the best facilitator of any star in the league, so having an elite-scoring guard alongside him adds to Denver’s postseason threat.

After starting the second round with a win over the Suns, the Nuggets are 19/10 to win the West.

Kevon Looney

Kevon Looney is rarely seen as the standout star for the Golden State Warriors, but he’s had too big of an impact on the series against the Sacramento Kings to ignore. The pair have shared six physical contests so far and Looney stands out as the playoff leader for rebounds claimed.

Looney was elevated to a starter with Draymond Green suspended in Game 3 and he hasn’t lost his spot since. The Warriors have won three of those four games, with Looney twice grabbing 20+ rebounds in a game.

While he’s not a great scorer, he has made big contributions with assists in the Warriors’ three wins. Despite playing for the defending champions, Looney has decided games for Golden State. When he plays well, the Warriors win. That alone has made him a standout from the first round.

De'Aaron Fox

One of the best first-round series in recent memory is deserving of two standout players, with De’Aaron Fox playing through injury in his first-ever playoff campaign.

Fox has earned his ‘Swipa’ nickname, as he leads the playoffs in steals with 2.5 per game against some of the best ballhandlers in the league.

Only Trae Young managed more assists than Fox in the first round, he’s averaged eight per game on top of 29.3 points per night. He’s posting veteran numbers in his postseason debut in an incredibly tough matchup.

With both sides giving it their all through six games, Game 7 is effectively a toss-up, with the Warriors 21/20 on the Money Line and the Kings priced at 4/5 at home. If Fox can produce a repeat of his Game 6 heroics, he could tip the series.

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