3 votes – Jameer Nelson. The first quarter in a road game is often the most important. You need to quickly quieten the opposition’s home crowd, and make sure the hostile environment doesn’t push you into an insurmountable first-quarter deficit. For that reason, Jameer Nelson gets today’s 3 votes for his sublime opening quarter in Charlotte. He drained a three on the very first possession of the game, and then either scored or assisted on the Magic’s next 8 points. Charlotte had to call time-out just four and a half minutes into the game with Orlando leading 13-8, and they wouldn’t look back. Nelson ended up with 19 points in the quarter, finishing with a crazy running 33-footer that he was fouled on with 1 second remaining (and would convert the four-point play). I don’t wanna say “I told you so”, but I did predict that Jameer would have a couple of big games in this series. You could argue that so far, he’s been Orlando’s MVP.
2 votes – LaMarcus Aldridge. This was the shock result of the day for me. I didn’t think Portland would win another game in this series, yet they did that in emphatic fashion today. Brandon Roy is some kind of superhuman freak after returning from knee surgery just 8 days ago, but LaMarcus Aldridge was the shining star for Portland today. 31 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists, and having the better of Amare Stoudemire. This series has a very different feel about it now. This was a gusty win, as was game 1 for the Blazers, whereas the Suns’ two wins seemed effortless. Call me crazy, but if the remaining games are dog fights, I’m favoring the Blazers down the stretch.
1 vote – Russell Westbrook. Hard to single out one Thunder player after the supreme team effort they turned in today. But Westbrook was off the charts. I knew this guy was talented and had athleticism. I knew he was one of the better rebounding guards in the league, and I also knew Derek Fisher would have his hands full with him. What I didn’t know was how hard this guy hustles, and how smart he is. There was one play in today’s game that blew my mind. Westbrook was dancing on the perimeter and settled for a contested jump shot from about 22 feet. The ball clanged off the rim and looked to be flying out of bounds. But Westbrook was there in a flash, jumped to save it, and then threw it to Krstic who was right under the rim and finished plus the and-one. That is a play a lot of young, flashy guards would give up on once they see the shot hit iron. Not only did he chase it, but he had the poise to throw a perfect pass. It all happened so quickly, and it completely mesmerized the Lakers defenders who were standing around clueless. If the Thunder go on to win this series, it won’t be because of their youth and athleticism. That is selling them short. It will be because of plays like that, and because they wanted it more than the Lakers. Russell Westbrook epitomized that today.