2023 NBA Playoffs

MVPs from every first-round series in 2023 NBA playoffs

With the conference semifinals set, let's take a look at the best player in each of the 8 first-round series.

Jayson Tatum made his presence felt in the Celtics’ first-round series win over the Hawks.

We’re already a game into the semifinals in both conferences, with a couple of series openers on tap in both the East and West on back-to-back nights to start off the week.

Before delving too far into what’s to come, let’s look back at the opening round of the playoffs and identify the most valuable players from each of the eight series:

Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

First-round stats: 37.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 6.4 apg
Honorable mention: Kevin Durant

Phoenix’s Game 1 loss to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals dropped Booker’s first-round scoring average of 37.2 points per game to 35.5 ppg. But you can’t deny the tear Booker embarked on in the first round against the Clippers, shooting 60.2% overall and 46.7% on 3-pointers while flexing two-way excellence in averaging 2.6 steals to go with a block. Booker closed the first round with a 47-point heater that included 10 assists while becoming Phoenix’s all-time leader in career postseason outings with 30-plus points (17) and games with 40 points or more (six). The three-time All-Star outscored the Clippers 25-24 in the third quarter of Game 5 all by himself.

Led by Devin Booker's playoff career-high tying 47 points, the Suns defeat the Clippers in Game 5 to take the first-round series.

Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks

First-round stats: 24 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.8 apg
Honorable mention: Julius Randle

The fifth-year veteran led the Knicks in scoring in all four of their opening-round victories against the Cavs. He also made an impact on the defensive end, averaging 2.3 steals. Brunson played in three of four meetings against the Heat during the regular season and averaged 20.7 ppg, 5.7 apg and shot 58% vs. Miami. We all saw Brunson’s craftiness on display in the first round, but he’ll need to crank that up a notch against Miami after the Knicks dropped Game 1 108-101 in what’s sure to be one of the NBA’s most physical series.

Watch the best of Jalen Brunson from the opening round vs. Cleveland.

Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

First-round stats: 37.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.8 apg
Honorable mention: Khris Middleton

The first player in Heat history to produce back-to-back 40-point playoff games, the 33-year-old Butler carried his squad in an opening-round upset of the Milwaukee Bucks. (If you missed it, colleague John Schuhmann broke down Butler’s impact in the series clincher in a film study.) Butler’s 37.6 ppg in the first round ranked as the highest for any series in Heat playoff history, not to mention the best among any player currently in the postseason. In Games 4 and 5 vs. Milwaukee, Butler amassed a total of 98 points, becoming one of five players in NBA playoff history to produce that many points in a two-game span. He joined Michael Jordan (who accomplished the feat on three occasions), Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Rick Barry.

There's locked in. There's in the zone. And then there's Jimmy Butler, who was on a mission to lead the Heat past the Bucks.

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

First-round stats: 27.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 5.3 apg
Honorable mention: Kevon Looney

Dropped a playoff career-high 50 points on Sunday to tie Karl Malone for the highest scoring output produced in a playoff game at the age of 35 or older as Golden State closed out Sacramento 120-100 in Game 7. Curry scored 30 of his 50 points in the second half of the series-clinching victory, including 16 in the fourth quarter.  “What an incredible performance,” Warriors teammate Klay Thompson said. “This is a Game 7 I’ll forever remember as the Steph Curry game.” That win sets up what should be an electric Western Conference semifinals clash between two teams featuring multiple Hall of Famers, headlined by Curry and Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James.

Led by Stephen Curry's playoff-career high 50 points, the Warriors oust the Kings in Game 7.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

First-round stats: 20 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 2.3 bpg
Honorable mention: Tyrese Maxey

Maxey probably deserves to be in this spot after averaging a team-high 21.8 ppg in the first round with Embiid hobbled by a knee injury that limited him to just three games. But in those few contests, Embiid made a mark as an imposing presence inside, especially in Game 3 despite scoring just 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting. The favorite to win his first Kia MVP come Tuesday night, Embiid hasn’t played since April 20, and Sixers coach Doc Rivers says Embiid is doubtful for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Monday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT). The back-to-back scoring champ missed two games in the 2022 East semis.

Inside the NBA: If Joel Embiid misses Game 1 vs. Celtics, can 76ers hang in the series?

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

First-round stats: 22.2 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 5.2 apg
Honorable mention: Anthony Davis

Poke the bear, and he’ll eventually clap back with a 40-point win in a series clincher followed up with some Jay-Z lyrics to pound home the message. Dillon Brooks learned this lesson the hard way, as the brash, young Memphis Grizzlies are left to ponder what’s next and will spend the rest of the postseason as spectators. The Lakers’ Game 6 against Memphis registered as the largest in a series clincher by a James-led team in his career and marked the first time since 2010 that a No. 7 seed ousted a No. 2 seed. For the record, James is 41-10 in games where his team has an opportunity to close out a series.

LeBron James' leadership shines through in series-clinching rout over Grizzlies.

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

First-round stats: 26.2 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 9.0 apg
Honorable mention: Jamal Murray

The reigning two-time Kia MVP has been up and down in his last two games, but he posted two triple-doubles in the opening round against the Minnesota Timberwolves to run up his total to eight in the postseason. That ranks as the second-most all-time by a center. Despite Jokic’s pedigree and standing on the team, the veteran called teammate Jamal Murray “our best player” after the team’s romp against Phoenix in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. In that game, Jokic gobbled up 19 boards, including eight offensive rebounds, which tied the Suns’ combined total.

Nikola Jokic records 8th career playoff triple-double vs. Minnesota.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

First-round stats: 27.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 5.3 apg
Honorable mention: Jaylen Brown

Atlanta led by three points with five minutes left in Game 6 before Tatum hit a 3-pointer and powered home a dunk in an 11-0 Boston run that gave it an eight-point lead with a little more than two minutes left. Tatum and Brown combined for 62 points in Game 6, and, interestingly, they had never both scored 30 points or more in the same playoff game before the 2023 playoffs began. The duo accomplished that feat in Games 4 and 6 of the first round, improving Boston to 23-1 all-time (regular season and playoffs) when Tatum and Brown each score 30 or more in the same game.

Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum 'did what star players are paid to do' in Game 6.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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