After a 34-point performance in the Golden State Warriors’ series-clinching Game Six victory, Wardell Stephen “Steph” Curry won his first Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP trophy. It was a unanimous selection from the panel of 11 voters, much like Curry’s 2016 MVP award, the first unanimous vote in that award’s history. Curry finished with an average of 31.2 points, six rebounds, five assists, and two steals a game, peaking with a masterful 43-point, 14-26 performance in Game Four that included seven three-pointers. Despite an 0-9 showing from deep in Game Five, Curry still finished with 31 threes in 71 attempts (42%), just one short of his own Finals record.
“This one hits different,” Curry said after the game, recounting the flood of injuries and roster turnover that the Warriors dealt with over the past three years. Curry came into the playoffs nursing an injury, after missing a full month with a sprained ligament in his foot after Boston’s Marcus Smart dove onto his leg. In fact, Curry came off the bench for the first four games of the playoffs, though by the second game he was back to scoring 34 points.
Of course, the trophy meant a lot to him. A constant criticism of Curry was his lack of any Finals MVP awards, despite winning three titles and two regular season MVP awards. He probably should have won in 2015, when Andre Iguodala won the trophy for guarding LeBron James - and having an excellent series - though Curry put up 26 points, 6.3 assists, and 5.2 rebounds in a 4-2 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. It really felt like a cudgel that people - let’s just say it, haters - used to belittle Curry’s accomplishments. It became a cottage industry to minimize the Warriors’ wins. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were hurt one year, they had Kevin Durant for two titles, Steph wasn’t good enough defensively to be an all-time great. And you could tell that as much as Curry ignored it, he couldn’t avoid hearing the talk, which may be why he yelled “WHAT ARE THEY GONNA SAY NOW?” as deputy commissioner Mark Tatum handed out the Larry O’Brien trophy.
What are they gonna say now? That Andrew Wiggins carried the team? Look, Wiggins was great, scoring 18.3 points and 8.8 rebounds, plus 1.5 blocks and steals each game while shutting down All-NBA forward Jayson Tatum. But even with all of K-Pop fandom behind him, no one had any illusions that Curry wasn’t the most important Warriors in this series.
But as Curry said, every person on the podium mattered. Klay Thompson shooting 7-14 in Game Five and playing vintage Klay defense. Draymond Green shrugging off some mediocre games, Boston fan heckling, and podcast criticism to do it all again in a gigantic playoff game. Kevon Looney, somehow rebounding like peak Larry Smith for a Warriors team that needed every missed shot he could corral. Gary Payton II, shaking off a broken elbow to dominate defensively in the Finals. And Steve Kerr, once again shuffling lineups masterfully when it mattered, even though the team had no set rotations when the playoffs began.
Still, there was no doubt who the Finals MVP was after four games, and after Curry tortured the Celtics again in the second half, drilling three triples to begin the third quarter, there was little doubt the Warriors were going to take this game and the series. He’s now 11th all-time in NBA Finals points - just nine behind Tatum’s hero, Kobe Bryant. He’s 9th in steals - Draymond Green is now tied with Michael Cooper for 7th in steals. He’s 10th in assists, three behind Scottie Pippen and five behind Michael Jordan.
We already knew he was one of the all-time greats, but this year the Warriors, and Curry in particular, answered all the possible questions about them. What are they gonna say now?
UPDATE: Klay Thompson has weighed in: “I’m so happy for him to get that Finals MVP. Some freakin’ bozo saying he needed it - I think he’s pretty much established what he can do.”