We all can agree that, at this point, Most Valuable Player awards and especially Finals MVP awards are rather silly, right? Yes, the role of an individual can be the deciding force even in this team game, but the goal overall should be winning, and a bon mot on top of that eventual win hardly really matters.
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And winners, save for one time, always take the Finals MVP. Not only are the voters usually correct in their assertion as to who was the most valuable player over a four-to-seven game stretch, but it would be obscenely cruel to dot the best player on a losing team with a bit of hardware that he wants nothing to do with.
No, at some point, the Finals MVP discussion is just an excuse for you to click on more things, or to dial in on TV or radio. Something to feed the machine, and another excuse for a car company to give away a moderately priced sedan.
I’m not trying to get you to click, though, I promise. Through five games, even with his team having lost three of five and with his sub-40 percent shooting on record, LeBron James might be the 2015 NBA Finals MVP. It’s just to discuss this, unless you’re on basic cable TV during the daytime. You guys, and you’re always “guys,” shouldn’t be allowed to discuss anything
The literal interpretation of “most valuable player” shouldn’t win James any votes, as that has never been the basis for any of these pollings. If the literal take were in place, James would have won the damn thing in 2006 while making $4.6 million, or Anthony Davis would have taken it this year while dragging a mostly dodgy New Orleans Pelicans team to the playoffs while working on a rookie contract. We already know that, even if Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were still on the active roster, LeBron James would be the “most valuable player” in this series.
Love and Irving are not here right now, though. And with James off the court, the Cavaliers’ offensive efficiency is working at a rate that is nearly half as much as the offensive efficiency they were putting up with James, Love, and Irving in the post-trades lineup toward the end of winter. If the Cavaliers were playing without LeBron for the course of the series, they’d be setting new record lows for Finals scoring every game. And the record low is 54 points.
While you can’t say that for every star-driven team, though, of course NBA squads are going to be mostly terrible without their best player, and especially without their top three players. Again, no points for LeBron here.
He deserves points from everywhere else, though.
Everything goes through him, and though this is born of necessity this is worth both our acknowledgement and possibly that free sedan and unwanted hardware. Other players have dominated the rock like this for stretches – Russell Westbrook was one recent example – but never against this caliber of competition (Remember Russell dialing it in against freaking Philadelphia?), never at this stage of a wearying season, and never in a format where, oh yeah, they also give out an MVP award for the best play over the stretch of a series. The Finals MVP might be pointless, but as long as we’re handing it out, shouldn’t we consider each individual player?
James faded down the stretch of Game 4, missing both his fourth-quarter shots after the Warriors went on a mini-tear while he sat for 110 whole seconds to begin the period. He scored 16 points in the fourth quarter of Game 5’s loss, but he also missed six shots and several chippies that could have kept the Cavs at arm’s length. He is shooting 39.8 percent for the series, and his team is in danger of losing three straight to close out these Finals.
He’s also, come on now, been the best guy on the court.
Stephen Curry has come alive in the last two fourth quarters, and he’s averaging 26.2 points, five rebounds and nearly six assists while shooting a remarkable (for someone who does what he does, from where he does what he does) 44.7 percent. He’s as good a choice as any for Finals MVP in just about any year that isn’t The Weirdest NBA Year Ever. Andre Iguodala, at 14.6 points, six rebounds, 19 total assists and just as many hockey assists, alongside that defense, would be nearly as deserving were it not for Steph’s video-game numbers.
Whoever has the best game in Game 6, should Golden State prevail and take the title, will probably win it – and they’d be absolutely correct in glomming onto that trophy. Both have been brilliant. Golden State is an amazing team, a deserved champion that won 67 regular-season games, rushed through the brutal West with a 12-3 playoff record, and the club doesn't deserve the dumb asterisk that some morons will attempt to give them as they point to Kevin Love on the sidelines, and Kyrie Irving’s Instagram account. Forget those mugs – these Warriors are a team for the ages.
We’re not arguing for James to win the award – because this is not a column I’m begging you to click on nor a TV show on at 11:30 in the morning – I can tell you that I don’t know who should win the award as we count down the hours to what could be the final game of the NBA’s 2014-15 season.
Furthermore, should Cleveland fall with James once again acting as the best player in the game, I’m not sure any of us should root for the indignity of him having to accept a Finals MVP trophy somewhere in the losing locker room. Even if you can’t stand LeBron, and there are still a lot of things to roll your eyes at with him, no player should be faced with that.
One player, infamously, was.
The NBA created the award in time for the 1969 Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers lost those Finals, and Jerry West was the best player on the court in the face of a Boston Celtics team that was rife with depth and little statistical fanfare. That’s neither to West’s discredit, nor is it a statement on Playing the Right Way. It’s just how these things turn out, and West was and is forever mortified by the acknowledgment and the inaugural Finals MVP he received.
Here’s how things are turning out for LeBron James, so far in this series. He’s averaging 36.6 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 8.8 assists. He’s only turned it over 15 times in the Finals through five games, which might be the most remarkable stat of all. Nobody dares go after him defensively, and watch Stephen Curry as he attempts yet another blow-by layup in the half court with James looming – they’re always thinking about him on that end. He’s blocked only three shots in the series, but he changes just as many per half.
That’s not an attempt to compare the two nor take away from Curry’s candidacy. That’s just how James tilts things. He’d prefer not to have to, but again – that’s just how these things turn out.
If any media member places hard and fast rules on this MVP “race” (one the combatants could not care less about), don’t listen to them. The MVP doesn’t have to come from a winning team, and James doesn’t have to win this thing based on the sheer impact of his presence and production. We can find nuance, here, in a game that keeps evolving before our eyes.
James could understandably fall flat in Game 6, as Golden State takes the championship. He could also find two more gallons of fuel, switch off that "Check Engine" light, and bang his way toward two more wins and an easy MVP vote. Both are well within the realm of the possible, in the weird state that this series is in.
Whatever the outcome, just appreciate what he’s done. You might rightfully be sick of him, after five straight Finals, those overwrought free-agent turns, and those dumb car ads. You might be ready for the new era of basketball that a Golden State win will seemingly promise. You want to see more of Riley Curry at the podium with a new and shiny trophy that is about half her size.
That’s fine. Just recognize greatness, before it goes away for the summer.
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