Whatever these NBA Finals were lacking in competition, they made up for in star power. So while there are plenty of gripes to be had about the monotony of the matchup, the Finals MVP race at least proved interesting. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry each had their moments in the Warriors’ sweep of the Cavaliers. But in the end, Durant was voted Finals MVP once again on Friday after the Warriors’ closeout 108-85 win. In doing so, the second-year Warriors forward became the sixth player ever to win the award back-to-back.
Each of the three stars had a signature game. LeBron put up a mind-blowing 51 points in a Game 1 that was a J.R.-Smith-remembering-the-score away from a statement victory for the Cavs. Curry painted a masterpiece in Game 2, stroking a Finals-record nine 3s en route to 33 points (and another Warriors win). Durant, meanwhile, took over a Finals Game 3 for the second straight year, tallying 43 points on 23 shots, 13 rebounds, and seven assists.
When a Warriors victory became inevitable in Game 4, an unspoken game within a game broke out for the trophy. Curry chucked his way to 37 points on seven 3s and 27 total shots, while Durant grabbed a triple-double. LeBron, meanwhile, tailed off along with his team, finishing with 23 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists in 41 minutes, his fewest of the Finals. In the end, KD had two things going in his favor: the series win and consistency. He finished the Finals averaging 28.8 points on 52.6 percent shooting. Curry averaged 27.5 points, but on just 40.2 percent from the floor. Perhaps more importantly, he followed up his record nine 3s by missing nine 3s (and shooting 3-for-16 overall) in Game 3.
Durant’s victory is something of a validation, for both him and his team. For all of the hand-wringing about how Durant’s isolations on offense run counter to the Warriors’ beautiful ball movement, this is exactly why a team that had already gone to two straight Finals would be interested in him, and vice versa. His production has made the Warriors unbeatable, and they have rewarded him with two rings and two Finals MVP trophies.
But Durant’s win denies Curry his moment. Just two games ago, it seemed like Curry had all but put the Finals MVP on his mantel. Durant may be the Warriors’ best player, but Curry is their guy. He was there during the lean years, biding his time behind Monta Ellis, and he was there when the Warriors turned the corner and became basketball’s unstoppable force. His not getting the 2015 Finals MVP (which went to Andre Iguodala) seems like such a mistake in retrospect. This was supposed to be the do-over, a celebration of all that Curry has meant to this franchise.
Yet, how do you argue against such a complete performance like the one Durant turned in? His triple-double in Game 4 felt as effortless as all of his jump shots do. And while Steph may have had two of the most electric performances, Durant’s steady efficiency, as well as his defense on LeBron in Iguodala’s absence, were the backbone of the Warriors’ series.
LeBron’s case, much like it was in 2015, was all about his heroic feats in the face of long odds. James dragged a dismal supporting cast through the Eastern Conference playoffs, including two seven-game series. And throughout most of regulation in Game 1, it looked like he may do so again in the Finals. James was brilliant in all four games, despite a reported hand contusion he suffered after punching a whiteboard following Game 1, but neither he nor the Cavs could recover from that loss. In the end, he averaged a Finals-best 34.0 points on 52.7 percent shooting (nearly the exact same percentage as Durant, for what it’s worth). Kevin Love was the only other Cleveland player to score more than 20 points in a game.
“I pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand,” LeBron confirmed after Game 4.
LeBron’s legacy is teflon at this point. He did everything he could; it was just never going to be enough. The Warriors, with Durant, have far more than enough. And that explains the gap between these two teams, and why KD is holding the Finals MVP trophy yet again.
“You guys can write about MVP. We don’t care,” Steve Kerr said postgame.
Sorry, Steve. Enjoy the parade.