The Golden State Warriors closed out the NBA Finals in Game 5 at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday. Kevin Durant is the one who benefits from a long history of the NBA awarding Finals MVP to the newly crowned champions.
And deservedly so.
Durant was impeccable in the Finals, averaging 35 points per game on 55-47-92 shooting numbers. He hit the iconic pull-up three to seal Game 3 and has been the clear difference-maker for a Warriors team looking to dethrone the Cavaliers as defending NBA champions.
But a case can also be made for LeBron James as Finals MVP, as well.
James averaged a triple double in the Finals, posting 33 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists per game. It was his 31-point triple double in Game 4 that gave Cleveland its biggest win of the season to avoid the series sweep many had written into the history books already. Still, it wasn’t enough for MVP.
Unfortunately for LeBron, he’s fighting against an NBA awards system that rarely awards the Finals MVP to the losing team.
Only once in NBA history has a losing team seen its player win Finals MVP honors. That was Jerry West in the 1968-69 season. Former NBA commissioner David Stern named the Finals MVP trophy after Bill Russell in 2009.
The Logo averaged 37.9 points through that series on 49 percent shooting from the field, including a 53-point Game 1, before eventually falling to Russel’s Celtics in Game 7. No other player has ever been named Finals MVP in a losing effort.
A case could have been made for James two seasons ago, as well.
Without both Kyrie Irving (knee) and Kevin Love (shoulder), James’ heroics pushed a battered Cavaliers team to six games before eventually losing to the Warriors. James averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists in 46 minutes per game. The Finals MVP was eventually awarded to Andre Iguodala, who was inserted into the starting lineup and averaged 16.3 points on 52 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent shooting on 3s.
So how is Finals MVP decided, anyway?
Eleven media members are tasked with voting for the most valuable player of the series. The voters range from television broadcasters to national NBA reporters, as well as local beat reporters, as well.
In 2015, 7 people voted for Iguodala versus 4 for LeBron. Last year, James was unanimously named Finals MVP.
An argument can be made local beat writers shouldn’t have any weight on Finals MVP voting — much like All-NBA team voting — but it’s unclear if there are any financial incentives for winning the award. In 2009, Adonal Foyle had a $500,000 bonus if he won Finals MVP, according to NJ.com. He never made it through the entire season.
For the most part, the voters get it right.
Naturally, a winning team should reap the benefits of victory. It only makes sense for the Most Valuable Player of an NBA Finals series to be part of the winning team. If the other team had the MVP, the series likely would have turned in their favor.
If the Warriors do close out in Game 5, Durant is a deserving Finals MVP. In fact, save for Iguodala, most Finals MVPs are recognizable, Hall of Fame names. All but one belonged to the winning team. Since 2000, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Chauncey Billups, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Iguodala have lifted the Bill Russell Trophy.
You can say Iggy was the outlier, but the series shifted after he was inserted into the Warriors’ starting lineup. Golden State trailed Cleveland, 2-1, without both Irving and Love in that 2015 NBA Finals. After the switch? They rattled off three straight victories to win the series.
The voters didn’t award Finals MVP to Stephen Curry, despite modest numbers of 26 points on 38.5 percent three-point shooting. Every year is different, and with a bonafide second star on the Warriors, it’s hard to see that happening again.
But the media members have gotten it right most of the time. West is The Logo for many reasons — that NBA Finals series was one of them. The King went down swinging in Game 5 the same way he’s fought all season long, but he still couldn’t join that exclusive group.
Kevin Durant had something to say about it.