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5 under-the-radar standouts from 1st round of NBA playoffs


While the first round of the NBA playoffs didn't produce much in terms of surprising results, it did give under-the-radar players a chance to make their mark in the national spotlight.

Whether it was executing their role to perfection or stepping up in a larger capacity than they had in the regular season, a handful of players put in surprising performances to make the league turn its head.

Below, we highlight the five most notable breakouts from a jam-packed first round of postseason basketball.

Starting five

Jalen Brunson

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The Dallas Mavericks' odds of getting out of the first round initially seemed bleak with news that superstar Luka Doncic would be unavailable for the first three games of the series due to a calf strain. The Mavs' fortunes improved drastically thanks to Brunson, however, who stepped into a leading role to help them advance past the Utah Jazz.

Brunson popped off to average 27.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.2 assists in the six-game series, which included a superb career-high 41-point outing in Dallas' Game 2 victory. The impending unrestricted free agent had no problem thriving alongside Doncic once he returned, either, contributing 24 points in both Games 5 and 6.

Desmond Bane

Desmond Bane took a monstrous step forward during the regular season, quickly proving himself to be a critical piece of the Memphis Grizzlies' starting unit in just his sophomore year. But the Grizzlies discovered that he can be just as valuable - if not more - as an all-around asset in the postseason. He put up 23.5 points, 4.3 boards, 2.2 assists, and 1.2 blocks through six games while shooting a blistering 48.2% from distance against a tenacious Minnesota Timberwolves squad.

One of Bane's greatest performances came in Game 4, when he connected on 8-of-12 attempts from deep - breaking the Grizzlies' single-game playoff record he set himself two days prior - and scored a game-high 34 points. Memphis lost by one, but it became clear Bane is something special.

De'Andre Hunter

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Atlanta Hawks forward De'Andre Hunter improved his point total in each of his team's five playoff games and finished with a 35-point, 11-rebound, three-steal masterpiece in Game 5. Hunter entered the NBA with high expectations as the fourth overall pick in 2019 but has settled in as simply a role player due to Atlanta's wing depth and his multitude of injuries.

With star Trae Young struggling in this year's playoffs, though, Hunter was forced to take on a larger role offensively, and he passed with flying colors. He averaged 21 points per game, but his efficiency was perhaps even more impressive. The 24-year-old made 56% of his field goals and 46% of his 3-pointers. Despite it coming in a losing effort, Hunter's scoring prowess in the playoffs could be a springboard for next season.

Bojan Bogdanovic

Cruelly, Bojan Bogdanovic's final memory of these playoffs will be his last-ditch, wide-open three clanking off the rim as the buzzer brings an end to the Jazz's title hopes. He shouldn't let that overwrite his other contributions to this postseason, though.

He ranked second on the team in scoring with 18 points per contest in six games against the Mavericks and chipped in with 4.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists. He got off to a hot start, too, pouring in 26, 25, and 24 points in Games 1-3, respectively, but the Jazz couldn't take control of the series before Doncic returned to spur Dallas through.

Max Strus

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With Jimmy Butler starring for the Miami Heat in their 3-1 series victory over the Hawks, the team's second-leading scorer wasn't Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry, or Tyler Herro - it was undrafted third-year guard Max Strus. After starting just 16 games in the regular season, Strus started all five playoff games, averaging 14 points and over three made 3-pointers per contest.

Strus' spot-up shooting opens up the floor for the rest of the starting lineup, and with the defense unable to help off of him on the perimeter, he finished plus-62 through the series. While teammate Duncan Robinson's 3-point marksmanship was an X-factor for the Heat in the playoffs two seasons ago, Strus' ability to knock down jumpers while playing reliable defense adds a new layer to Miami's quest for another deep run.

Honorable mentions

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Brandon Clarke: The Grizzlies pivoted away from the lumbering Steven Adams after Game 2 against the Timberwolves, opting for mobile and switchable bigs. Playing in the closing lineup, Clarke averaged 16.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per game off the bench.

Grayson Allen: Allen stepped up for the Milwaukee Bucks as All-Star Khris Middleton suffered an MCL injury in Game 2 against the Chicago Bulls. In the following three games, Allen put up double-digit scoring performances to close out the series, including a game-high 22 points in Game 3.

Grant Williams: Williams provided meaningful minutes coming off the bench in the Boston Celtics' sweep of the Brooklyn Nets, especially in the absence of Robert Williams to start the series. He led all Celtics players, averaging 1.5 blocks per game.

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