The Golden State Warriors are 48 minutes away from securing their third championship in four years. Will Stephen Curry finally snag that elusive Finals MVP?
The Golden State Warriors are likely going to close out the NBA Finals on Friday night. And, if they don’t do it today in Cleveland, then, like last year, they’ll hoist the Larry O’Brien inside the friendly confines of Oracle Arena.
While the championship has nearly been decided; the main conversation has been about which superstar gets to take the Finals MVP trophy home.
Despite the two regular season MVP awards, the clear-cut Hall of Fame future, and his place as one of the game’s greatest, Stephen Curry has yet to earn a vote for Finals MVP, let alone the whole thing.
In 2015, Andre Iguodala edged out LeBron James for the honors. In 2017, Kevin Durant’s 35 points per game average and Game 3 dagger locked up the award.
Curry probably deserved it in 2015. Though Iguodala’s defense on James was crucial to the victory. The series turned around when Steve Kerr inserted Iguodala into the lineup in Game 4, but he wasn’t the team’s most important player.
Does anyone think Kyrie Irving deserved the Finals MVP in 2016? The series didn’t shift in Cleveland’s favor until he started rolling offensively and, of course, he hit the biggest shot in NBA history. While he was phenomenal, it was clear that the award belonged in James’ arms.
That is the same dynamic Curry and Iguodala had in 2015 though voters chose to give the award to the latter. It’s not to say Iguodala wasn’t deserving, Curry was just more deserving. Unfortunately, a poor Game 2 created a narrative about Curry’s postseason struggles that, even after many historic playoff performances, he can’t seem to shake off.
Curry’s Finals numbers last season would have been enough to win the MVP in nearly every series. But when you prioritize winning over personal glory, you get 2017 Finals MVP Kevin Durant. Curry was spectacular, but Durant had a signature moment, a higher points per game average, and a sense of vindication that voters sided with.
The lack of a Finals MVP award is the only “blemish” on Curry’s record. The Warriors, even with Durant, are Curry’s team. He is what makes them go, a game-changer that opens the floor up from everyone else. Curry’s greatness isn’t defined by whether or not he wins this arbitrary, small sample size award, but it’s the only major trophy he doesn’t have.
Through the first two games of the 2018 Finals, Curry was clearly the frontrunner. Despite a push for James from many who sympathized with his cause, the losing side doesn’t deserve it, especially in a potential sweep. Curry set an NBA Finals record with nine three-pointers in Game 2, heading to Cleveland as the leader in the clubhouse.
Prior to Game 3, Curry averaged 31 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 8.1 assists on 45 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent from three-point range. After an abysmal third game in which he shot 3/16 and 1/10 from beyond-the-arc, Curry’s numbers took a major hit. He enters Game 4 averaging 24.3 points, 6 rebounds, and 7.7 assists on 38.5 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from long range.
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While Curry’s counting stats are good, they aren’t as good as Durant’s after his incredible 43-point performance. And, even more significantly, Finals MVP awards are as much about defining moments as they are statistics. Though Curry set a record, Durant’s deep dagger from his favorite spot on the Quicken Loans Arena floor might be the lasting image that stays with voters.
So, can Curry still win it? It seems as if the consensus–at least on social media–is that Durant is now in the lead. After putting himself in great position through the first two games, Curry’s 11-point output was a big blow to his case.
It’s entirely possible that Curry can still take home the hardware. To start, it depends on what the voters choose to value. Curry outplayed Durant in Games 1 and 2, but the difference in play was not nearly as great as the one in Game 3. So, will voters go with the guy who was better more often or the guy who was much greater once?
Building on that, maybe voters will re-visit Game 3 and realize that Curry wasn’t bad, he just shot extremely poorly. He took care of the ball, rebounded, and made plays for his teammates. But nothing is more indicative of his value than Cleveland’s defensive approach of hard hedges, double teams, and traps that allowed Durant to work in single coverage and opened up space for countless wide open looks at the rim for everyone else.
The race is close, maybe closer than the hyperbolic nature of TV’s sports talk shows and Twitter want us to think, and it will come down to Game 4. If Curry has another poor shooting game, then he will let it slip away once again. If he can outplay Durant, even by a small margin, then perhaps he can wrestle it away.
Steph Curry doesn’t need a Finals MVP for validation. He’s an all-time great without it. Having two regular season MVP awards–one of which was a unanimous selection–and three championships is pure greatness. As long as the rings keep piling up, the Finals MVP doesn’t matter in the long run, but it’s fun for fans and it’s always great to see a legendary player get rewarded.
Though it’s not in his nature, the fan in me thinks Curry should get greedy and go for it.