Breaking down the battle over Finals MVP between Golden State Warriors stars Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.
After three games, the two Golden State Warriors stars each have a case for the coveted honour, so it could come down to who performs better in Game 4 (if the Warriors clinch the title with a sweep).
Before breaking down the case for each player, let’s get this out of the way first: LeBron James should not win Finals MVP. Has he been the best player in a series in which he’s leading all players in scoring and assists with averages of 37.7 points, 10.7 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 52.5 per cent shooting? Yes. No one’s going to dispute that – or they shouldn’t, at least.
But to earn Finals MVP as a player on a losing team, you have to be so head and shoulders beyond the rest of the field that it’s criminal to not get the trophy. There’s a reason only once in NBA history has a losing player been the Finals MVP and that was the first ever edition of the award, given to Los Angeles Lakers icon Jerry West back in 1969.
If LeBron was doing what he did in Game 1 – 51 points, eight assists, eight rebounds and 59.4 per cent shooting – every night in this series, then sure, he would probably get the award. But he hasn’t and there are two players on the team that’s actually winning who are deserving.
Before Game 3, it seemed like Curry was comfortably on the way to securing his first Finals MVP – an achievement that has eluded him while he’s stocked with trophy cabinet with two championships and two regular season MVPs.
Curry’s career probably won’t be looked at any differently whether he has a Finals MVP to his name or not, but from a historical perspective, it would be fitting for a player of his stature and standing among the league’s all-time greats to have at least one on his resume.
After splashing down a Finals record nine 3-pointers and scoring 33 points in a signature performance in Game 2, Curry looked in line for the award. But the combination of him mightily struggling in Game 3 and Kevin Durant having his own memorable night has likely put Curry behind his teammate.
It’s not just that Curry was bad in Game 3, it’s that he had one of the worst shooting nights of his career, hitting just 3-of-16 from the field, including 1-of-10 from deep.
Durant, meanwhile, lit it up with 43 points on 15-of-23 shooting, to go with 13 rebounds and seven assists. Like last year, he also hit what may end up being the most memorable shot from the series with his clutch 3-pointer in the final minute.
Here are Curry and Durant’s averages up to this point in the Finals.
Curry: 24.3 points, 7.7 assists, 6.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 3.0 turnovers, 38.5 per cent overall, 39.5 per cent on 3s
Durant: 31.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.7 blocks, 2.3 turnovers, 55.9 per cent overall, 47.4 per cent on 3s
There’s no doubt whose averages look better on paper. Durant is not only putting up more numbers than Curry, he’s doing it more efficiently with ridiculous shooting percentages.
He also has recency bias working in his favour, with his best game so far having been after Curry’s. Plus, however you want to account for defence, Durant has the edge in that department as well.
It’s fair to say if both players have somewhat similar performances to one another in Game 4 and the Warriors win, Durant will walk away with the hardware.
But it’s too late for Curry to jump back into pole position. Obviously if he plays well in the clincher and Durant struggles, the odds shift in his favour. But one thing working to his advantage is his importance to Golden State’s offensive identity, meaning that when he’s clicking, the Warriors attack is at its best. Compare that to Durant, who is more or less a backup option and a high-volume scorer only when the rest of the Warriors aren’t completely in rhythm.
Curry is the face and soul of the Warriors, so if he can dominate in such a way in Game 4 that the rest of the team feeds off that – like in Game 2 – then it might not matter what Durant does.
This is all based on the idea Golden State finish off this series with a sweep. The longer this goes, the more unpredictable the MVP choice will be.