- David Thorpe, ESPN Staff Writer
It's hard to remember a series that featured better play in a head-to-head matchup than what we've seen so far in the Western Conference finals from this season's top two MVP vote-getters. In terms of skills and shot-making talent, these two men stand alone in the NBA today.
The reigning MVP, Steph Curry, is making his presence felt even more strongly now, as many of his teammates have not gotten up to speed in this round. Curry has willed (and shot) the Warriors to two wins against the best opponent they have seen yet.
Here's a look at the most valuable players from the postseason so far -- the 10 biggest difference-makers, strictly from the perspective of who has most helped his team win during the playoffs. (Check back every week as we update this list throughout the playoffs.)
During the first two games of the hyped-up matchup between the two star guards, Curry did everything possible to show that no matter how great Harden played, Curry had at least one more shot up his sleeve. Sometimes lost in Curry's incredible array of shot-making talent is his ability to get open shots, and that skill paid off big time for him in Game 1. Off the dribble, in transition, fading to the corner off a curl-cut, or running to an open spot and using a teammate to seal his defender off -- it was all on display as Curry led the Warriors to their Game 1 win.
Curry was even better in Game 2 (as was Harden), repeatedly making shots that saw him well-defended (and sometimes wide open). It's fair to wonder whether Houston will look to trap Curry more going forward after forcing him into a few turnovers with that strategy in Game 2.
It's not just Curry's shooting talent that helps him stand out, though, it's his heart and his head, too. He's a fighter who steps up in the toughest of moments before trying to make the big (and correct) play. Just like he did when he aggressively challenged Harden in the final seconds of Game 2, resulting in a loose ball that kept the Rockets from what could have been a series-changing win.
Before the series started, the argument for picking the banged-up Cavs to win the series began and ended with LeBron. And in Game 1, he indeed put together an incredible effort to assure his team of a win.
From his opening bucket, fighting for a short paint jumper into the teeth of the Hawks' defense, James showed a will to make key plays all game long.
In the Cavaliers' cakewalk win in Game 2, we actually saw what some experts have believed for some time: LeBron may have saved some energy for these moments. Meaning, he coasted on occasion in the regular season just so he could have games like this ready to go when he needed them most.
As good as Curry and Harden have been, LeBron is doing more with less talent around him. Curry ranks higher than LeBron on this list only because he has faced better competition in these playoffs. LeBron's will to win is more evident now than ever, seeing how he demands paint touches and is such an obvious coach on the court.
Steph Curry and LeBron James have been the biggest difference-makers in the playoffs. Who else cracks David Thorpe's list?