I’m going into this post with the belief that the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award goes to the player who, as the name of the award would suggest, played the best during the NBA Finals series, and that series alone. The point of making the assumption that a players overall postseason resume and previous career accomplishments have nothing to do with who ends up winning the award is because if that were the case then we have no effing clue who is going to be hoisting this trophy up when the Finals are all wrapped up in the next week or so. Since both the Spurs and Heat are only two wins away from becoming NBA champions and no player has made a resounding case for Finals MVP over those four games, it seemed like an appropriate time to investigate what players have made the best case for Finals MVP. Let’s count down the top ten candidates.
The “If Both Coaches Decide To Bench Their Stars Again They Have A Chance” Candidates
10. Mike Miller- 7.3 points, 1.3 rebounds, 83% FG, 82% 3PT
Back before the Conference Finals, I wrote this about Shane Battier in my Legacy Watch Power Rankings: “It can’t be a complete coincidence the Battier played for one of the great college teams of the 2000’s (2001 Duke Blue Devils) as well as the teams with the 2nd and 3rd longest win streaks in NBA history (this year’s Miami team, as well as the 2008 Rockets). There is just something about Battier that is vital to success. Maybe it’s the professionalism he brings to the table or his play on the court, but with a stretch of play as impressive as he was in last year’s Finals (11.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 61% FG, 58% 3PT in 5 games), Battier could easily stumble into some ‘Poor Man’s Big Shot Bob’ comparisons.”
Well don’t I feel silly. In the ensuing ten games after I wrote that Battier is averaging 1.9 points on icy cold 12% shooting and bringing in nothing more than “Washed up, smelly, homeless man’s Big Shot Bob” comparisons. Ever since Shane Battier started playing like he was 13 levels beyond washed up Mike Miller has been the bench spark Battier was supposed to be. Spark isn’t even the right word. Miller has been NBA Jam style on fire during the Finals, shooting a scalding hot 82% from downtown. His three point flurry in Game 2 helped to open the flood gates and his 5 for 5 shooting performance in Game 3 kept the game from being a 56 point blowout rather than a 36 point blowout. With the Spurs double teaming LeBron when he goes to work in the post, packing the paint and daring the Heat to become a jump shooting team, Miller may be a primary beneficiary if LeBron and Wade’s jump shots fail them and they look for scoring help elsewhere.
9. Mario Chalmers- 8.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 43% 3PT
Even though Chalmers went six straight quarters without scoring in Games 3 and 4, he was a difference maker in Miami’s Game 2 victory. His pick and rolls with LeBron sparked the Heat 33-5 run in the 2ndhalf that happened so quickly I didn’t even realize how out of hand the game had gotten, and I was at the game. He was fearless and like many times before, you could just see from the way that Chalmers was carrying himself he firmly believed he was the best player on the floor in Game 2. He outplayed Tony Parker (seemingly a death blow for the Spurs) and finally got into the paint, a large reason why Miami is currently trailing 2-1 in the series. Like every irrationally confident player in the league Chalmers happens to fly off the handle on occasion and forget that he is just Mario Chalmers. He’ll go through stretches where he takes an inordinate amount of ill-advised shots, is so reckless with the ball it looks like he’s playing in a constant state of fast-forward, and makes me question why the reigns haven’t been handed to Norris Cole and his high-top fade. However, it pays off when Chalmers comes through like he did in Game 2. If only for one night, Chalmers carried himself like a Finals MVP.
8. Gary Neal- 13.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 48% FG, 55% 3PT
This would have to be the all-time Finals MVP upset right? If Gary Neal’s Finals MVP odds were even on the board before the series (They weren’t; he belonged to the “Any Other Spurs Player” grouping which got 30 to 1 odds in case you were wondering) he would’ve had to be at least a 150 to 1 underdog, and if you put any money on the hypothetical bet, you must’ve loved every time the Heat defenders lost him in their rotations in Games 3 and 4. Danny Green stole the attention in Game 3 in part because he was already billed as the Stephen Curry stopper back in Round 2, but it was Neal who lead the Spurs in scoring in the 1st half, had the halftime interview with Doris Burke after hitting a buzzer-beating three to end the 2nd quarter, and continued to carry the Spurs offense in the 2nd half. Neal played for two different colleges, spent three years in Europe after going undrafted, and his two effing first names… and in Game 3 he was kicking me in the groin over and over again (metaphorically of course) for two hours. Yay for Gary Neal.
The “Living Up To Expectations Can Go A Long Way” Candidate
7. Chris Bosh- 14.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.8 blocks, 48% FG
After Bosh put together a much needed 20 point and 19 rebound performance at Chicago in Game 3 of the 2nd round, he quickly fell off the map and fell in love with being a perimeter player despite his 6’11 frame. Over the course of the next ten games Bosh played so frustratingly bad that it nearly drove me to the point of participating in the first ever one man riot. In the ten games after his 20-19 game at Chicago, Bosh attempted nearly as many three pointers (23) as free throws (28) and never grabbed more than 8 rebounds. It was so frustrating watching Bosh, a power forward/de facto center who gets paid $20 million a year be completely unable to establish himself as a presence. I expected more of the same in the Finals because there was nothing telling me to think otherwise. Instead Bosh bounced back from a poor Game 1 with three straight double-doubles for the first time since before the All-Star break and was a complete difference maker in Game 4. Bosh’s 20 point 13 rebound game was lost in the shuffle of Wade’s “Flash” resurrection and LeBron getting back on track, but it was just as crucial to Miami bouncing back and evening the series at two games apiece.
The “Hey Cleveland, Here Are Two Middle Fingers… How Do You Like Me Now” Candidate
6. Danny Green- 16.5 points, 3.5 rebounds. 1.0 steal, 1.3 blocks, 58% FG, 68% 3PT
Seriously, can anyone explain to me how Danny Green was cut from the post-LeBron Cavaliers team that went 18-64 and saw Daniel Gibson, Anthony Parker, Manny Harris, Jamario Moon, Joey Graham, and the immortal Christian Eyenga as backcourt staples? What a debacle. And it’s such a cliché that the Spurs would be the team to scoop Green up, play him in only eight games in 2011, and then turn him into a key rotation player and long distance sharp shooter over the last two seasons. Green has been video game hot in the Finals (19 for 28 from downtown, at least half of his makes Dwyane Wade has completely lost track of him) and completely up to the challenge of defending Wade and LeBron James. Going into Game 4 he was improbably the leading scorer of the Finals and all the way up to 4th in my Finals MVP power rankings.
The “They Just Need One Vintage Performance To Sky-Rocket Up The List” Candidates
5. Tony Parker- 13.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 44% FG
4. Tim Duncan- 15.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 42% FG
Let’s not even take into account the fact that Trick Shot Titus has made more meaningful baskets over the last two months than Manu Ginobili has. There is no denying the fact that like the Heat Big Three, the Spurs Big Three has had a bit of a rough go of it in the Finals. Parker made the most memorable play of the series and was virtually unstoppable down the stretch in Game 1 but thanks to a strained hamstring and a much more aggressive defensive approach, Parker has been limited in Games 2 through 4. Although he was sensational in the 1st half of Game 4, Parker was held scoreless in the 2nd half, which makes sense now that Parker acknowledge the strain could become a tear at any time. If the Heat have solved the Parker riddle, it’s hard to imagine the Spurs still winning this series unless they hand the car keys back to Tim Duncan.
For the first decade of the Duncan/Popovich era in San Antonio the metaphorical car keys belonged to Timmy. Duncan wasn’t only the linchpin of the defense like he still is, he was also the focal point of the offense. The offense was run inside-out and they played much slower than they have over the last three seasons. But with Parker hobbled, Ginobili useless, and no other Spur ready to carry the burden of having to score on a consistent basis, it’s on Duncan to do just as I said he needed to for the Spurs to win a title: He needs to be Vintage Tim Duncan. He needs to turn back the clock and come through with a 24-14-5 game if the Spurs can’t rely on Parker to get into the paint and carry the offense. Duncan’s averaged a double-double in the series, but he’s shot a pedestrian 42% against the small Heat frontcourt. It feels like the Spurs are on the ropes and therefore, I expect the 2003 version of Tim Duncan to show up tonight. If that’s the case and the Spurs grab Game 5 and go on to win the series in Miami, Duncan would be the odds on favorite to win Finals MVP.
The “Hey Sonny, Here Are Two Middle Fingers… How Do You Like Me Now” Candidate
3. Dwyane Wade- 18.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.8 steals, 49% FG
Watch this clip to reflect on how good Wade was in his Game 4 “Flash” back while I take a moment to try to get my foot out of my mouth. Just know this: I don’t trust Wade. I don’t trust that all of the sudden after one great game Dwyane Wade is “back.” And I definitely don’t believe Wade’s Game 4 is a sign of long lasting success for him. He can easily reassume his role as the victim of my barbs with another lackadaisical performance in Game 5, something I don’t completely rule out.
The “He’ll Never Actually Win The MVP, But Quietly He’s Been F****** Awesome This Series” Candidate
2. Kawhi Leonard- 11.3 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 44% FG
Kawhi Leonard gets this spot for five reasons:
1. Did you really think after one great game and three crappy ones I was prepared to give Dwyane Wade this number two spot?
2. As mentioned about, Duncan and Parker haven’t been outstanding; if anything, they’ve played below their expectations.
3. Kawhi Leonard has huge hands. The only way you wouldn’t know this is if you watch the games on mute. Mike Breen is contractually obligated to note the size of Leonard’s hands once every three times he’s mentioned in the game.
4. Although LeBron finally got going in Game 4, it took three games for him to find a comfort zone. Obviously Pop and the Spurs have done a good job with their defensive schemes to limit LeBron and make him a jump shooter, but the majority of the credit needs to go to Kawhi Leonard, who has given LeBron more of a problem than all of the high quality perimeter defenders LeBron has faced in the previous three rounds (Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Jimmy Butler, Paul George).
5. What hasn’t Kawhi done for the Spurs? He doesn’t need to carry the scoring burden, but he’s scored double figures in three of the four games. He’s grabbed the 2nd most rebounds of anyone on the team behind Tim Duncan. He’s done an exemplary job guarding the best basketball player in the world. And he has a knack for making big plays and being in the right spot at the right time. His ability to grab offensive rebounds and get his massive hands in the passing lanes and come through with a big steal is vastly underrated, just like the rest of his game is.
The “When In Doubt, Just Assume The Best Player In The World Will Come Through” Candidate
1. LeBron James- 20.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.3 steals, 46% FG
Call it a disappointing series for LeBron if you’d like (Admittedly, to some degree it has. I even went as far as Tweeting during Game 3 that LeBron was playing worse than he did against Dallas in 2011), but keep this in mind: If LeBron James were to win the Finals MVP and managed to keep his stat line where it is right now, he’d be the first player ever to win Finals MVP while averaging least 20 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists throughout the series.