The NBA playoffs have blessed us some great basketball so far, especially in the current second-round series. The Milwaukee Bucks did take care of the Boston Celtics in only five games, but the other three series are all still in progress.
The Portland Trail Blazers-Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers-Toronto Raptors are both going to a winner-take-all Game 7. The Golden State Warriors lead the Houston Rockets 3-2.
Which players have stood out with extraordinarily good or bad play for the aforementioned teams? Let’s analyze this week’s risers and fallers.
NBA Playoffs Week 4 Risers
George Hill, Milwaukee Bucks (Bucks won 4-1 against Boston Celtics in Eastern Conference Semifinals)
Hill turned the Bucks-Celtics series on its ear for Milwaukee when he broke out in Games 3, 4 and 5. He averaged 17.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3 assists in 25.7 minutes per game over those contests with a fantastic true-shooting percentage of 73. Not surprisingly, Milwaukee won all three games.
The Bucks’ veteran guard is now 33 years old and has been on a slow decline since his prime that was around four seasons ago. He actually had a pretty mediocre campaign in Cleveland and Milwaukee this year. However, he has been great on both ends over the past week and looks like he has regained the explosiveness of his 27-year-old self.
The Bucks have outscored opponents by 23.9 points per 100 possessions with Hill on the floor this postseason. That net rating ranks first among all postseason players with at least 200 total minutes.
Jimmy Butler, Philadelphia 76ers (76ers tied 3-3 with Toronto Raptors in Eastern Conference Semifinals)
Butler’s role with the 76ers has shifted drastically in this second round of the postseason. For much of the regular season and in the first round, he played the part of a supercharged role player who could defend, pass and score well, but he wasn’t carrying a huge offensive load for the Sixers.
Ever since Game 2 against the Raptors, Butler has taken charge of the Sixers’ offense. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris have had their struggles, but Butler has scored between 22 and 30 points in five consecutive games in a series where offense has been hard to come by. Overall, Butler’s averages in his last five contests are 25.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 6.6 assists and just 2.2 turnovers per game with a 60.3 true-shooting percentage. His defense has been very solid.
Game 7 in Toronto should be fun between the Raptors and 76ers. Philly is going to need Butler to keep playing confidently and aggressively if it wants to pull off the road upset.
Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets (Nuggets tied 3-3 against Denver Nuggets in Western Conference Semifinals)
One key question revolving around the Nuggets this postseason is whether they have a second star who can provide consistent support for Nikola Jokic. Paul Millsap has stepped up in this series and Gary Harris has had some good moments, but it is Murray who has made the lion’s share of big plays for Denver outside of Jokic.
Murray’s four games in the past week have seen him average 27.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists and just 1.5 turnovers per game with a solid true-shooting percentage of 55.8. The 22-year-old guard is moving up the hypothetical pecking order of the NBA’s rising stars. He has become a very versatile player on offense who can handle the ball, make plays for others and score from all three levels.
What makes Murray’s performances more impressive is that he has been dealing with a nagging right thigh injury that first happened in Game 6 of the first round against the Spurs. He has looked a bit hobbled at various points, but his skill level is shining through in spite of that.
NBA Playoffs Week 4 Fallers
Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics (Celtics lost 4-1 against Milwaukee Bucks in Eastern Conference Semifinals)
Hayward was far from the only problem for the Celtics in their collapse against the Bucks. Boston won Game 1 on the road by 22 points before losing four straight games by a combined 65 points. Kyrie Irving, Terry Rozier and Smart were all woefully inefficient in the losses, shooting a combined 32-of-121 from the field and 7-of-52 from three-point range from Game 2 to Game 5.
All three of those guys could have taken spots here, but we are going to highlight Hayward, who went from decent in the regular season to mediocre in the playoffs and then downright horrible in the last four games of the Bucks series. Ideally, with a guy like Hayward who is still getting comfortable after returning from his leg injury, you want him to get better as the season wears on, not worse.
Hayward put up 6 points, 3 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 28.3 minutes per game in his last four postseason games. His true-shooting percentage was a dreadful 40.5. He is not really one of the team’s best defenders, either. There is a lot of doubt about what this max contract holder can do for the Celtics in the future.
Clint Capela, Houston Rockets (Rockets losing 3-2 against Golden State Warriors in Western Conference Semifinals)
The state of NBA big men is quite precarious right now. If you can’t shoot or defend the perimeter well, you are useless against certain lineups. Capela is learning that the hard way against the Warriors and all their skilled outside scorers.
In the regular season, Capela looked like a fringe All-Star with his rebounding, rim protection and ability to finish around the rim. His hands have been terrible against the Warriors, though, and he has shown that he can’t shoot outside of about three feet. On defense, he has just one total block in the last three games. His rebounding numbers look nice, but he is not boxing out well or grabbing enough tough contested boards.
Capela needs to make some significant improvements during the offseason. He needs to become a capable passer when making the short roll and also add better touch on his free throws and short jump shots.
Monte Morris, Denver Nuggets (Nuggets tied 3-3 against Portland Trail Blazers in Western Conference Semifinals)
In the regular season, Morris was the quintessential backup point guard. He scored efficiently on decent volume and made very few mistakes. He ranked second in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio with a fantastic mark of 5.71 assists per turnover.
The Nuggets point guard just hasn’t been able to get going in the second round of the postseason. His minutes have been decreased, all the way down to just two minutes against the Blazers in Game 2 and 12 in the series. He averaged 24 minutes per game in the regular season.
Of course, you can’t really argue that Morris deserves his regular minute load. In the past week, he has played four games and scored a total of eight points and dished just three assists in 38 minutes on 3-of-15 shooting from the field.
Unfortunately, Morris is also a smaller, less explosive guard who doesn’t provide much on defense in a playoff series. Denver’s engine of its second unit is not playing up to his standards, and that’s a big reason the team is having so much trouble getting past the Trail Blazers.