For The Third Time In Three Titles, Stephen Curry’s Greatness Goes Unrecognized
It’s hard to really gauge how much this will matter 25 years from now. Maybe it will be just an odd footnote in NBA history. Maybe it will be a bit of sports trivia, fit for a TV show or a way to stump a friend at the bar. The engine of the NBA’s first true dynasty of this decade, Stephen Curry, has yet to win a Finals MVP award. Curry’s four-year run beginning in 2014 has been one of the best stretches for any NBA superstar, and while he has two regular-season MVP awards to show for it, he continues to get shut out on the league’s biggest stage.
None of the Curry snubs are indefensible. LeBron James’s heroic performance in 2015 contributed to splitting the vote, which aided the ultimate winner Andre Iguodala. Kevin Durant was spectacular in 2017, and he hit the series’ most memorable shot. And this year, Curry played three great games, but he put up a clunker on the same night Durant went supernova, which likely clinched the Finals MVP award for KD. Still, it’s hard to think that during this run, with plenty of incredible performances, Curry hasn’t been recognized during the game’s premier showcase.
Curry finished this year’s Finals with averages of 27.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. He set a Finals record with nine three-pointers in Game 2. In the closeout game, Curry was perhaps gunning for that MVP trophy, finishing with 37 points, and his 7-of-15 shooting from beyond the arc went a long way in breaking the spirit of the Cavaliers defense.
The lack of extra trophies for Curry is obviously a byproduct of Golden State’s decision to sign Durant. To his credit, Curry would almost certainly make the trade of MVP trophies for Larry O’Brien trophies. As Steve Kerr alluded to after Game 4, when Curry recruited Durant in the Hamptons two years ago, there was no discussion about who would be winning MVP. And yet, as the legacy conversations begin about the Warriors, it will be interesting to see who will be remembered as the bigger catalyst for Golden State’s success, Durant or Curry.
Durant is the more conventionally unstoppable player. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that KD joined a team that could have been a dynasty without him, a team that had won 73 games in large part due to Curry’s individual brilliance. While Curry can shoot any team out of a gym, the attention he commands off the ball is almost just as important. He’s always moving, he’s a willing screener, and he can launch in even the smallest bit of airspace. So many of the Warriors’ comically open looks are the result of Curry’s gravity, and those stats aren’t quite as easy to measure as points per game or field-goal percentage.
What Durant’s shadow has done is cast a fog over Curry’s accomplishments in the moment. While Warriors fans seem to respond to Steph more than anyone else on the team, that’s not quite the same as racking up Finals MVP trophies. It’s a credit to Steph and KD that they don’t let the honor come between them, but imagine if Kobe was winning MVPs over Shaq? Or Pippen over Michael? As a historical artifact, the Finals MVP trophy serves some purpose. It’s a signifier of who the best player on the floor was during a championship series. There’s so much talent on the court between the Warriors and Cavs, that—at least in Golden State’s case it can sometimes be difficult for the individuals to distinguish themselves.
At some point, Curry will deserve the acknowledgement that befits his status as one of the NBA’s best players ever. Curry’s shooting seems so unfair that it’s almost not revered the same way as LeBron’s tireless forays to the rim or Durant’s effortless scores over hapless defenders. Make no mistake, however, the Golden State dynasty started with Stephen Curry. He, for numerous reasons stretching from his incredible talent to his previous ankle injuries, put the Warriors in place to win their third championship in four seasons.
A Finals MVP for Curry may never mean as much to him as it does for historians of the game, or blog boys as Durant likes to call them. But if there’s one eyebrow-raising quirk from constructing one of the best teams of all-time, is that its most important player—its most valuable player—can go three championships running without being remembered as the best player in the series. Perhaps that’s the best way to remember these Warriors. Golden State is so good, it didn’t need its best player to be the best player on the floor to win another title.