For all of their individual stars, the Golden State Warriors have been the ultimate team on their quest to win a second straight championship. That’s why it might not come as a shock that they don’t have an obvious choice for NBA Finals MVP as they try to close out the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 on Thursday night.
Golden State has won 73 regular-season games and 15 more in the playoffs with the league’s deepest roster. Three All-Stars make up 60 percent of the starting lineup, and the bench includes last year’s finals MVP, who finished second in voting for the 2016 NBA Sixth Man of the Year award.
But the Warriors don’t have a clear-cut MVP, not because there are too many candidates to choose from, but more so because no one player has had an exceptionally good series.
Having been named the NBA’s first ever unanimous MVP and winning the award in back-to-back seasons, Stephen Curry was the obvious choice before the series began. But aside from his 38-point performance in Game 4, the point guard hasn’t been overly impressive, at least not by his standards. He’s shot less than 50 percent from the field in four of the five games, and he averaged just 16 points per game in Games 1-3. Even with the Cavs trailing the series 3-2, Kyrie Irving has arguably outperformed his counterpart.
Steph Curry: 22.2 ppg (42.4 FG%), 4.6 apg, 0.8 steals, 4.4 TO's
Kyrie Irving: 28.2 ppg (48.7 FG%), 4.6 apg, 2.4 stls, 2.6 TO's
— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) June 15, 2016
After the Warriors took a commanding 3-1 series lead, Draymond Green appeared to be in the driver’s seat to be named the finals MVP. He still might be, considering he has the best odds (+120) of any player on either team, but his actions that led to a suspension in Game 5 might have hurt his chances.
Green was clearly Golden State’s best player when the Warriors took the first two games at Oracle Arena. He averaged 22 points, nine rebounds, six assists and 2.5 steals in those two contests, giving the Warriors a cushion as they headed to Cleveland. But Green’s totaled just 15 points since then, and he could be penalized for forcing his team to play a man short because he once again hit an opposing player in the groin.
Shaun Livingston was MVP frontrunner, at least for a day. But since he scored 20 points on 80 percent shooting in the series opener, he’s totaled just 27 points.
Much will be determined by Game 6 and a possible Game 7. Curry’s overall numbers are strong, and if he has a big performance that pushes his scoring average near 25 points, it would be hard to deny him the award. There’s a chance Green’s suspension will work to his benefit, and if the Warriors clinch the series in Game 6, it might highlight just how valuable he is to the NBA’s top team.
The final member of Golden State’s “Big 3” seemed to be completely out of the running after Game 3. Klay Thompson was averaging just 12 points per game on less than 37 percent shooting at that point in the series. But he’s been terrific in the last two games, scoring 62 points on 34 shots. Thompson could very well steal the award with a third straight standout performance, though the fact that he was the primary defender on Irving for a large part of the point guard's 41-point barrage in Game 5 won’t help his case.
The rematch has been different from last year's finals in many ways. Cleveland took an improbable 2-1 series lead a year ago, but they’re looking to make an historic comeback this time around. The Cavs didn’t have Irving or Kevin Love for almost the entirety of last year’s series, and LeBron James has a healthy supporting cast in 2016.
But the play of James and Andre Iguodala has been similar to what it was last season, making both players longshot candidates to be named the series MVP if Golden State wins the title.
Iguodala won the award last year by filling up the stat sheet (16.3/5.8/4.0), and most importantly, slowing down James in the second half of the series. His defense remains outstanding, despite James’ big numbers, and if the Cavaliers’ star doesn’t take over on Thursday and force a Game 7, Iguodala will be the biggest reason why.
Irving has put up some big numbers, but James will undoubtedly win the award if he brings a championship to Cleveland. It might be unfair to rule him out, however, if the Cavs lose in a deciding seventh game. James has easily been the series’ best player with averages of 28 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, and unlike last year when he nearly averaged a triple-double, he’s been efficient with his shot at 49.6 percent from the field.
Jerry West was the only player to become the finals MVP in a losing effort, doing so by averaging 37.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game as the Los Angeles Lakers lost a seven-game series to the Boston Celtics in 1969.
Cleveland probably needs to win the title in order for James to be named the MVP, but with the way this series has gone, it can’t be ruled out that James will make history in defeat.