NBA playoffs: Can Knicks and Wolves fight back in Game 5s? Who's the postseason MVP?

What to make of the second round of the NBA playoffs with all four series now four games in — and three series tied 2-2? And which player has been the postseason MVP through the first three weeks of the playoffs? Our NBA crew shares its takes on the conference semifinals ahead of pivotal Game 5s.

Dan Devine: Exhausting. Down three starters and a top reserve, New York is leaning as hard as possible on its top four: Jalen Brunson, playing through a foot injury; Isaiah Hartenstein, playing through a banged-up shoulder; and Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo, who needed to be down by 40 to get a breather. The overall effect evokes the closing stages of a Depression-era dance marathon … and there’s Tyrese Haliburton, turning big band into Buddy Rich, sprinting to the second round’s fastest average time-to-shot and top transition offense. Do the Knicks have the horses to finish this race, at this pace? They shoot horses, don’t they?

Jake Fischer: A war of attrition. We’ve highlighted New York’s running tab of injuries on the Ball Don’t Lie podcast plenty. Will New York have enough healthy bodies to hold off Tyrese Haliburton and Co. is more of a question than if they can.

Vincent Goodwill: Bodies, bodies, bodies. I know that’s a Damson Idris line in a whole different context, but the Knicks don’t have the bodies to look anything like a full version of themselves. They’ll be asking Dan Devine for his jersey size and shoe size before it’s over. And it feels like Tyrese and the confident Pacers will take full advantage.

Ben Rohrbach: A sacrifice. I’m not even sure Jalen Brunson would (should?) be playing if everyone were healthy, much less playing 40-plus minutes a night. The OG Anunoby injury would be a death knell for any other team, but with these Knicks, you get the feeling the next man up is a way of life, not a platitude. On the other side, outside of Game 4, which might have been a bridge too far for New York, Indiana is fighting for its life against a depleted roster. You get the sense that whoever wins will be the lamb to a slaughter in Boston.

May 12, 2024; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) works around Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (5) as forward Aaron Gordon (50) sets a pick in the third quarter of game four of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Goodwill: Inches. Like Al Pacino said in that one movie, the inches are all around, and the Nuggets are finding them in those key moments. The Nuggets have sweat equity and scar tissue, and they know the Timberwolves are the future. Which means you better beat them while you can, before the Ant Man gets a real crew.

Fischer: Showing us what Denver is made of. The Nuggets silenced all the naysayers ready to anoint this series a sweep with two emphatic wins at Minnesota. Denver’s response to being outclassed on their home floor is what true championship DNA entails.

Rohrbach: Basketball at its best. This feels like the conference finals, if not the NBA Finals. The Timberwolves’ defense is an absolute bear, but the Nuggets’ offense might be better. Anthony Edwards, the rising super-duper-star, against Nikola Jokić, the three-time MVP and defending champion. What more can you ask for but seven games of this. The next opponent will have to meet whichever battle-tested team emerges at their level.

Devine: A reminder. Denver’s not the kind of team that’s going to voluntarily take a header off the top of the mountain; the champs are the champs until someone beats them. We’ve seen the Nuggets persevere, problem-solve, survive and advance. Now it’s Minnesota’s turn. We know Anthony Edwards is built for this. Which other Wolves are ready to run with the leader of the pack?

Rohrbach: A wrap. Cleveland hardly stood a chance with a healthy Donovan Mitchell. Without him — or with a diminished version of him — a 3-1 deficit against these Celtics is a mountain to climb. The Celtics are just playing for practice now, trying to find their best selves against weakened opponents. It’s a difficult balance, and one Boston hasn’t always handled well, but that’s a worry for the next round now.

Devine: All over but the shoutin’. For a second there, if you squinted, you could see a pathway for Cleveland: a 1-1 tie with home-court advantage, with Donovan Mitchell looking like the best player in the series, and with the unfortunate injury to Jarrett Allen allowing the Cavs to downshift into the one-big/more-shooting alignments that drove their greatest success this season. After a pair of nearly wire-to-wire wins in Northeast Ohio, though — and with Mitchell joining Allen on the sidelines with a calf strain — that road’s now blocked. The only question left: How much rest will Boston get before squaring up against whoever survives the closing kick of Knicks-Pacers?

Goodwill: A prelude. To what, exactly? Nobody knows. Donovan Mitchell has looked like a destroyer for two games and all it did was cost him a chunk of his calf, while he was waiting on Darius Garland and Evan Mobley to show consistency. For Boston, it’s a mere warmup, because the Celtics haven’t played their best game and haven’t had to play their best game. It’s not even a test, and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will need one before June.

Fischer: No real contest. Boston, with New York’s aforementioned injury issues, might not face a bonafide contender before June’s Finals. Maybe that’s because the Celtics are simply that much better than the rest of the conference, or maybe the rest of the conference just simply isn’t ready to contend for the title.

DALLAS, TEXAS - MAY 13: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Dallas Mavericks fouls Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the third quarter in Game Four of the Western Conference Second Round Playoffs at American Airlines Center on May 13, 2024 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images)

Fischer: A dogfight. Look no further than the bruising matchup between Luka Dončić and Lu Dort. This series has been tough and rugged and points have been very hard to come by, thanks to a sheer high level of physicality through four games.

Goodwill: A beautiful struggle. Luka Dončić is struggling. Oklahoma City’s youth is struggling, but someone is growing stronger as the series progresses. The Thunder showed some gumption in Game 4, winning a game without playing particularly well and shutting off Dallas’ water. Either way, the loser will walk away feeling an opportunity has been missed and the winner will walk away definitely charred for the next round. A battle of attrition and wits.

Devine: Spicy. Oklahoma City was down by nine with three and a half minutes to go in the third quarter, staring down the barrel of a 3-1 deficit that all but certainly would’ve spelled doom for the West’s precocious No. 1 seed. And then the temperature change over the next 15.5 minutes — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander cranking up the heat, Dallas’ shooters suddenly going ice-cold — completely altered the forecast. Now: a three-game sprint to the finish line, with two of the tilts in OKC, the Mavs going from swaggering to shell-shocked, and anyone’s guess where the next vibe shift’s going to come from.

Rohrbach: Fascinating. It’s a shame Luka Dončić doesn’t look 100%, because his battle with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander would be even more thrilling. SGA has been the best player in the series, and maybe he would be against a healthy Dončić, too. Or maybe we just can’t rely on Dončić to stay fit for the long haul. Beyond the headliners, we get to watch Kyrie Irving do Kyrie Irving things — without all the nonsense — and a young Thunder team meet the same moment, winning Game 4 the way veterans would. OKC is developing its playoff scars in real time, all as Irving is trying to shed his. More, please.

Fischer: Anthony Edwards. Even in Minnesota’s losses, the young phenom has proven he is ready for this stage, and ready to lift a franchise with winning plays and defense as much as his incredible scoring ability.

Rohrbach: Anthony Edwards. He’s been amazing, molding the game (the league?) in his image. A genuinely cool basketball player with the game to back up every bit of hilarious trash talk.

Devine: Anthony Edwards. I thought about making a case for Brunson, given how completely dependent the Knicks’ offense is on him generating scoring chances, but let’s not overthink this: Ant’s averaging 32.1 points on .673 true shooting to go with 6.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.5 steals-plus-blocks per game. He leads all postseason players in estimated plus-minus, and is neck-and-neck with Nikola Jokić in win shares per 48 minutes and value over replacement player despite playing fewer games and minutes. The Wolves have outscored opponents by 7.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, and have been outscored by 5.9 points-per-100 with him off it — most notably those two and a half tell-tale minutes in Game 4. He’s the breakout star of this postseason; I can’t wait to see what he’s got in store for the rest of this heavyweight fight with Denver.

Goodwill: It could be Jalen Brunson, but it’s Anthony Edwards. Just as Michael Jordan was the breakout star of the 1986 playoffs without winning a single game (scoring 63 in the Garden will do that), Edwards has electrified the league in showing he’s a big-game, springtime player. There’s question of whether Brunson will be the best player on a title team, as impressive as he’s been with his streak of 35-plus point games. There’s zero question about No. 5 in Minneapolis, it’s just a matter of time.