The Top Performances of the 2011 NBA Playoffs

Ethan Norof@ethan_norofCorrespondent IMay 16, 2011

The Top Performances of the 2011 NBA Playoffs

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    There have been some impressive performances in the 2011 NBA Playoffs.

    In what has shaped up to be one of the most exciting postseasons in recent memory, superstars from around the league are delivering when it matters most for their clubs.

    MVP Derrick Rose has served as the propelling force behind Chicago's surge, but has he been the most impressive player in this year's road to the championship?

    Let's comb through the most impressive performances. 

Dirk Nowitzki: Round 3, Game 4

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Final Line: 12-20 FG, 40 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists

    Last round, there was a lot of chatter from Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder that the Memphis Grizzlies had the best power forward in the game in Zach Randolph.

    I don't think that sat too well with Mr. Nowitzki.

    Dirk is the best at his position. Period. There is no debate. Perhaps the single most important player to his team in the entire league, Nowitzki sparked the Mavericks come from behind victory in overtime after overcoming a 15-point deficit in the final quarter.

    His team now has a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Thunder and look like they're on their way to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2006.

    Is there anyone who doubts he's the premier talent at his position right now? I'd like to hear the counter argument. 

Dirk Nowitzki: Round 3, Game 1

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Final Line: 12-15 FG, 48 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks

    Dirk was just two points away from scoring 50 points in the inaugural game of the Western Conference Finals despite only shooting the ball 15 times from the floor.

    Nowitzki shot an incredible 80 percent and was a flawless 24-24 from the foul line en route to one of the most memorable performances in NBA playoff history.

    While many people glance Nowitzki over as one of the most elite talents in the league, the German is making sure that nobody forgets just how talented he is. The people in Dallas know just how good he's been for a long time, and now it's time for the world to give credit where it's due.

    With Kevin Durant exploding for 40 points of his own for Oklahoma City, and Dallas winning the all important Game 1 by only nine points, Nowitzki solidified his place in postseason lore as the best NBA player to ever come out of the European ranks. 

Kevin Durant: Round 2, Game 7

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Final Line: 13-25 FG, 39 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks

    In Game 6 of the highly contested series between the Grizzlies and Thunder, Durant failed to show up and logged one of the worst performances of his career: 3-of-14 shooting, 11 points, seven rebounds and two assists.

    But in Game 7, Durant knew what was on the line. He had a chance to to send his Oklahoma City team to the Western Conference Finals in front of a very excited home crowd, and that's precisely what he did.

    The Durantula put on a full-fledged show for the world to see. Although he is still very young, there is no doubt that this game was a defining moment in the career of the blossoming superstar.

    At just 22, Durant's star is shining just as brightly as any other. 

Marc Gasol: Round 2, Game 4

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    Final Line: 11-20 FG, 26 points, 21 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 block

    When the Lakers traded Marc to Memphis in a deal for his older brother Pau, it was largely viewed as one of the biggest steals in league history.

    But does it still seem that way? The impending free agent has blossomed into one of the NBA's best centers and it appears his best days are still in front of him. At just 26 years old, there's no doubt that his growth potential is still through the roof.

    Although the Grizzlies wound up losing the thrilling contest, Gasol did almost everything he could for his team. After averaging just 11.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game in the regular season, he's taken his game to an unforeseen level.

    And the timing couldn't be more perfect. As his brother Pau draws criticism from media around the globe, Marc shines brightly in the spotlight and the debate over which team has the better Gasol has never been more tight. 

Josh Smith: Round 2, Game 4

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Final Line: 8-22 FG, 23 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks

    J-Smoove might be the most versatile player that the NBA has seen in quite some time, but his poor decision making and lax attitude often override his production in the box score.

    But not on this night.

    With the Hawks facing a critical Game 4 and desperately seeking a win, Smith put away his jumper and showed the type of player that he's capable of being. After posting a near historic triple-double, the Hawks found themselves even at two in a series that many expected them to not even be a part of.

    Smith could be the best power forward in the league if he had the work ethic and desire to be great, but the apparent lack of those two key character traits may prevent him from ever reaching his true ceiling.  

Jason Terry: Round 2, Game 4

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    Final Line: 11-14 FG (nine three's), 32 points, 1 rebound, 4 assists, 1 block 

    Although the final line on Terry might not be too impressive at first glance, anyone who watched this game knows that the story of this one was all about "The Jet".

    Dallas' sixth man came off of the bench on fire in Game 4 and was a major reason that the Mavericks swept the Lakers with relative ease. Looking like a man on a mission, Terry launched a brigade from beyond the arc that never stopped at any moment.

    He was a perfect 9-of-9 from deep, tying a postseason record and sending his team to the Western Conference Finals. 

    One of the more underrated players in the league, Terry was effectively launched into the national spotlight where he belongs with this historic performance. 

Zach Randolph: Round 2, Game 3

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Final Line: 8-22 FG, 21 points, 21 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block

    Normally, scoring 21 points on 22 shot attempts would draw harsh criticism, but when it comes in a triple-overtime thriller in the second round of the postseason there are extenuating circumstances to consider.

    Z-Bo has come out and validated the lucrative extension that Memphis handed him (four years, $71 million) with his spectacular contributions, and has very much looked like one of the best power forwards in the NBA

    It was not long ago that this guy was traded for Quentin Richardson in a straight-up swap, and now he's leading the surprising Memphis squad on a much deeper postseason run than anyone anticipated prior to the season beginning. 

Derrick Rose: Round 2, Game 3

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Final Line: 16-27 FG, 44 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 steal, 1 block

    Is there anything that the youngest MVP in league history can't do?

    After propelling his team past the Indiana Pacers in round one without much effort from his supporting cast, the D-Rose show marched forward into the second round with a swagger unlike any other player on the floor.

    Rose sliced and diced through the Atlanta defense and made Jeff Teague, who has played like a breakout point guard in the making,  look like a 12-year old on the defensive end.

    The 27 shot attempts might be a little high, but as long as he's making better than 50 percent of his attempts, nobody is going to register a single complaint. 

Kevin Durant: Round 1, Game 5

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Final Line: 14-27 FG, 41 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks

    Paging Coach Scott Brooks: can you please explain to me why Russell Westbrook is averaging more shot attempts than Kevin Durant?

    The Durantula showed off his scoring prowess in the first round with a commanding 41-point effort that propelled his Thunder team into the second round with a 100-97 series-clinching victory. And in the process, Durant won many fantasy basketball playoff leagues for owners.

    Scoring the final nine points of the game for Oklahoma City, Durant matched his personal playoff best with the scoring output, helping his team overcome a nine-point deficit in the final four minutes of the game.

    As teammate Nick Collison noted after the game, "Kevin just took over".

Chris Paul: Round 1, Game 4

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    Final Line: 7-14 FG, 27 points, 13 rebounds, 15 assists, 2 steals

    Chris Paul quieted any murmurs that there may have been about his level of play falling off with his strong series against the Lakers.

    Although some seem ready to crown Derrick Rose the best point guard in the NBA, Paul isn't quite ready to cede the title. Yes, the Chicago guard deservedly took home the MVP award this season, but that doesn't equate him to being the best in the league at his position.

    Dwyane Wade struggled with injuries from 2006-08 and the casual fans were ready to write him off as an elite player and look how he's responded. CP3 wanted to let everyone know that he's not going anywhere anytime soon, and even if he winds up in a different uniform sooner rather than later, there's no doubt Paul sits atop the point guard rankings in today's NBA.  

Dwight Howard: Round 1, Game 2

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    Final Line: 9-12 FG, 33 points, 19 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block

    Was anyone really surprised to see Howard's dominance on such impressive display during the postseason?

    The Magic tied Game 2 of the series behind another incredible effort from their Superman center. Although he wasn't quite as productive on the offensive end as he was in the first game of the series, a more balanced team attack led to the increased efficiency that the Magic sorely needed.

    It's hard to fathom the idea that Howard netted 33 points on just 12 shot attempts when so many of our most heralded scoring stars around the league jack up at least 15 shots nightly, and the fact that Dwight managed 2.75 points per shot attempt needs to be recognized.  

Carmelo Anthony: Round 1, Game 2

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    Final Line: 14-30 FG, 42 points, 17 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks

    Remember when everyone was heaping the blame for New York's struggles on the Carmelo?

    Well, the newest piece to the Knicks puzzle isn't exactly to blame. After laying an egg in Game 1 and scoring just 15 points, Melo came out and lit up the Celtics, looking like the most prolific scorer in all of basketball.

    And with Amar'e Stoudemire hampered by a back injury, this was the type of of performance that the New York masses were clamoring for from Anthony.

    In a game where Bill Walker played 32 minutes without registering a point (0-of-11 from the floor), Melo singlehandedly kept his Knicks in the game up until the final shot. 

Dwight Howard: Round 1, Game 1

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    Final Line: 16-23 FG, 46 points, 19 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block

    It's too bad that Howard's teammates didn't provide him much help in this incredible effort.

    How does the team's best player score near 50 points and lose by 10 points? That was the question of the night floating around the locker room after Orlando fell to Atlanta in the inaugural game of the series.

    Starting point guard Jameer Nelson chipped in with 27 of his own, but all players not named Dwight Howard combined for just 47 points, just one more than the All-Star center himself.

    When Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu combine to shoot 4-of-17 and register a mere 10 points, it's no wonder that the Magic fell at the hands of a more well-rounded Atlanta team.