6. Anthony Davis, Game 4 against the Golden State Warriors
Anthony Davis’ playoff debut was not a disappointment. He might not have won a game against the talent-wealthy Warriors, but he did everything within his vast powers to stop them. Any of his four performances could be sincerely chosen in this slot, but his 36-point, 11-rebound effort in his final fight against an inevitable fate was an especially alluring bit of action from the 21-year-old. It shouldn’t be long before he swivels around to the other end of the table, and is playing the role of fearsome overdog.
5. John Wall, Game 2 against the Toronto Raptors
26 points, 17 assists. Wall erased any doubts about who the superior team was in this contest, which was the spark that led his Wizards to a clean sweep of the Raptors. Perhaps the game’s most underrated point guard, Wall stepped into an NBA defense with an ease to suggest it was his kitchen, and made judicious decisions about who in his lineup to feed as he distributed to men left open by the swarms of bodies his elite speed demands when he takes it to the hole. If you want to learn how to play the position perfectly, watch film from this outing.
4. Blake Griffin, Game 1 against the Houston Rockets
With Chris Paul sitting out and taking care of a hamstring he pushed to the limit against the San Antonio Spurs, the Clippers were left for dead by many against Houston. But Blake Griffin went as hard as one can go against an unsuspecting Rockets squad, and put together a triple-double for the ages as he point-forwarded his team to a shocking upset. His 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists were the numbers of a man with a skill set that goes way beyond the supreme dunking that he’s known for. Griffin reminded the league that he’s an all-around wunderkind in this game.
3. Steph Curry, Game 3 against the New Orleans Pelicans
The lengthy, explosive Pelicans were a bad matchup for the indomitable Warriors, and many expected them to steal a game or two against the odds-on favorites to win the title. That prediction seemed to be coming true in Game 3 of the first-round joust between the two teams, as New Orleans put their foot down and carried a 20-point lead into the fourth quarter. Then, the MVP became the MVP all over again. Curry scored 17 points in the closing quarter and overtime to lead the Warriors to a commanding 3-0 lead in the series, capping a colossal comeback with a double-take three-pointer through a crowd in the corner, which sent the game to an extra period the Warriors had full control of. You’re never too far behind when you’ve got Steph.
2. Mike Conley, Game 2 against the Golden State Warriors
Twitter was calling it “The Broken Face Game” before it was even close to over. Conley stormed into the roaring Oracle Arena with no loss of confidence, despite playing for the first time in nearly two weeks and nursing a bludgeoned mug behind a plastic mask. He scored nine quick points for the Grizzlies and set the tone after Steph Curry’s MVP ceremony, putting the bay area on alert. He gave Steph trouble all night defensively, and hit an emphatic three-pointer late in the game, himself, that all but put the game out of reach. This showing could be a turning point in the championship equation.
1. Chris Paul, Game 7 against the San Antonio Spurs
One leg, no problem. Paul tweaked his hamstring amidst the most memorable game of the season, but it didn’t stop him from leading the Clippers to a victory over the defending champion Spurs that felt like a title-winner. His game-sealing floater with just a second left will populate highlight reels for the next decade, and instantly goes down as the most iconic image in the career of the NBA’s most underappreciated floor genius. Paul’s always had the hearts of those who understand the intricacies of the game — now, he’s got an emotionally charged moment to corral fans beyond the sport.
— John Wilmes