For the first time in recent NBA history the title of Best Player in the World will be riding on one single game. Stephen Curry has won the last two MVP awards, is the reigning champion, and will be playing the last game of a historic 88-win (so far) season. LeBron James is a 4-time MVP (in ’09, ’10, ’12, & ’13), a 2-time champ (in ’12 & ’13), and is playing in his 6th straight NBA finals (7th overall). LeBron had been the most dominant player in the league since his 3rd season, and to many he retained that title in defeat last year. It took 5 threes a game and 30 hyper-efficient points from Steph to unquestionable de-throne him. But James has dominated Curry these finals with historic averages of 30.2p/11.3r/8.5a/2.7s/2.2b through 6 games. If he leads the Cavaliers to a game 7 win it will be hard to say he’s not still the best player alive.
There have been epic modern finals matchups, but not one like this in a long time. These same two teams faced off last year, but this year’s Cavs are different. This year LeBron has a deadly sidekick in Kyrie Irving, and the team has a better overall vibe that helped them open the playoffs with 10 straight wins. Last year meant a lot, but this year means more.
It is rare for the two best players in the league to actually meet in the finals, and even more rare for the series to be competitive. In lockout-shortened 2012, James and Kevin Durant, 1 & 2 respectively in MVP voting, faced off in the finals, but Young Durant was not yet at the peak of his powers and the Heat handled the Thunder 4-1. 2007 Young James vs Middle-aged Tim Duncan was a Spurs beat-down. 2006 Wade vs Dirk was must-see, but Nash and LeBron were 1 & 2 in MVP voting that year. Kobe—league MVP and finals runner up in ’08, champion and finals MVP in ’09 & ’10—didn’t face LeBron during his three straight finals appearances. 1995 Shaq vs Hakeem was a battle for best player in the league (while Jordan played baseball), and Hakeem’s Rockets brought out the brooms. Twice Michael Jordan took down the league MVP in the finals: in ‘97 vs Karl Malone and in ’93 in an epic duel vs Charles Barkely.
To find a game like tomorrow, with the Best Player Alive Belt actually on the line, we have to go back to Magic vs Bird in the 80’s (which I know nothing about). If Curry wins he wraps up a 2-year stretch of 2 rings, 2 MVP’s and 140 regular season wins. If James, who had a 2-year stretch of his own with 2 rings and 2 MVP’s from 2011-2013, wins he secures his legacy and gets one for the Land. It would also open the real possibility of him winning a 4th next year.
Prediction: NBA fans in 7