Curry finally a viable Finals MVP candidate

ByEthan Sherwood Strauss ESPN logo
Monday, June 15, 2015

OAKLAND, Calif. -- In the Golden State Warriors' 104-91 Game 5 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the league MVP took a big step toward being the NBA Finals MVP.

It was a game in which Stephen Curry's late 3-pointers were absurd enough to make one laugh. Maybe that's why Warriors coach Steve Kerr uttered the first crack after the game.

"I called all those plays," Kerr said of Curry's incredible isolation shots. "Those were my genius inventions."

Kerr was kidding about his involvement, but "genius inventions" was an apt description. How else to describe the way Curry used a blur of a dribble to hypnotize theoretical Curry-stopper Matthew Dellavedova? How else to describe the way he shifted from that card-shuffling routine to his deep daggers? The league MVP scored 37 points on 23 shots, but that impressive line does little to convey degree of difficulty.

Curry hadn't scored to his averages in the first four games of these Finals, leading to speculation over whether his teammate Andre Iguodala might deserve the NBA Finals MVP in the event Golden State wins the title. That speculation likely ended Sunday night. Louder is the speculation that LeBron James might win the award in a losing effort. The series has been seen by some as a referendum, proof that the league MVP and league's best player are not the same.

James would agree with that sentiment and said as much after a game in which he claimed 40 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists.

"I feel confident because I'm the best player in the world," James said. "It's that simple." You can hardly fault James for that assessment. He'd just kept the Cavs close for much of the contest while playing point-center, a la Magic Johnson in the 1980 Finals. It's an impressive feat, and it's drawing a level of praise that might be unprecedented for the sport's most scrutinized athlete.

Curry, in contrast, hasn't produced in a way that would generate such accolades. He has received more double-teams than James, and for much of the series has passed out of the trap to teammates. This worked in Cleveland's favor for the stretch where Golden State was frigid with their shooting. Still, Curry's presence was vital to the Warriors' attack, even in decoy form.

Sunday's more assertive version was better, though. The Cavaliers went small, likely because Timofey Mozgov looked out of sorts defending Golden State's drag screens and in generally keeping up with the Warriors. He also was flummoxed by double-teams, something he rarely sees. Curry set about attacking the cracks in Cleveland's downsized, offense-oriented looks. "They made an adjustment," Curry said. "Didn't play Mozgov pretty much at all in the whole game. So they tried to match our lineup."

The Cavs couldn't do it. While the move gave Cleveland a little life offensively, it ultimately was overmatched playing Golden State's style. The scene was a bit surprising in a Finals that, for the first few games, had been slow and grinding. Now it's suddenly a look into where the league is headed, how spacing and speed claim priority over size in many situations. "It's just not a series for bigs right now," Kerr said.

That's another reason the game served as a reminder of just how revolutionary Curry is. The smallest guy on the floor can dictate so much of what happens, mostly with his outside shot. He might not be better than LeBron James today, and might not be tomorrow. His rise still represents a changing of the guard in basketball. Small can prevail over large, unlike in the NBA of yore. The future is here. It's smaller and quicker than the past.

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