- David Thorpe, ESPN Staff Writer
The Finals are set with what appears to be a dream matchup. The league's best team, featuring the league's MVP, against the world's best player. Both Stephen Curry and LeBron James have displayed far more than skill and talent in helping guide their teams to this point, as their leadership and poise under pressure have been just as integral to their success.
Of course, neither star made this Finals appearance happen by himself; they have had plenty of help along the way. So while LeBron and Curry sit atop this list of Postseason MVPs now, remember, the best player on the team is not necessarily the guy who will stand tallest in the final series. It was just last year that the Finals became Kawhi Leonard's stage, and a similar scenario could happen this season as well.
On to the rankings ...
Some will argue that LeBron's accomplishments this season are already his best work, leading a beat-up team with limited playoff experience overall to the conference finals. Factor in a "rookie" head coach and the loss of the team's star power forward and the case gets even stronger. The bottom line is that James has now made the Finals in five consecutive years, a feat that hadn't been done since 1966. His legacy continues to grow, as this season has been a testament to his mind, his leadership, his skills, his athleticism and, maybe as important as anything, his will to win when dealing with obstacles.
LeBron showed so much poise when it looked like the Hawks would win Game 3 and perhaps climb back into the series, never changing his facial expressions or his tone after an 0-for-10 start. He finished the game with a remarkable triple-double and made a ton of big plays to help the Cavs win. Then he followed that up with a near triple-double in just 29 minutes in Game 4 to lead his team to a sweep.
He is the epitome of what a postseason MVP looks like, impacting the game even when he is struggling, as he demands so much attention in scouting reports and overall game strategy. His mere presence earns open looks for teammates and his leadership is never more obvious than when he reacts with genuine enthusiasm after a teammate makes a big play. Michael Jordan said he became a better player when he lost just a little athleticism but gained so much more knowledge and skill. That is where we are with LeBron today.
It is fair to say that the NBA has never seen a player like Curry in its history. Never. His talent at making shots in the tightest of time frames (with only milliseconds to get a shot off) from deep distances is unprecedented. Add in his ball-handling wizardry, passing skill and defensive chops, and we have a player for the ages.
Curry made the Rockets pay so often for just the briefest lapses in awareness of where he was, and he also did the same when the defender was hounding him all over the court. Step-back 3s off curls or fade cuts, stopping on a dime first after a swift move - those are not a high percentage shots. Except for when Curry shoots them, apparently.
His willingness to compete hard on defense early in Game 5 also sent a strong signal to his team that, even though he may have been beat up following that hard fall in Game 4, he was still ready to fight for a win. He finished with five steals, with a few of them coming during Rockets fastbreaks. The Warriors were able to take a lead that they never relinquished, thanks in large part to Curry's defense and activity overall. He is so much more than just an elite shooter.