The NBA Finals are set to begin on Thursday night, and fans are waiting with anticipation as the two best teams of their respective conferences will square off. The excitement emanating from this series is warranted because of the star power that’ll be on full display. Two of those stars man the point-guard position for each team, so let’s take a look at that matchup.
Oracle Arena has a different buzz to it nowadays, and that can be attributed to their team getting back to relevancy. Remember when teams looked at Golden State on the calendar and could deem it an easy win? Well, that’s no longer the case thanks in large part to Stephen Curry. Knicks fans are still kicking themselves because of that 2009 draft that saw Curry taken right before them in the first round.
After a franchise-best 67-win season for the Warriors that catapulted them to the playoffs with the NBA’s best record, Curry had the honor of hoisting his first MVP award.
Although his daughter, Riley Curry, has recently been making the headlines after games during the postgame press conferences, it’s her father who has put the work in during the season that has warranted high praise and adulation. And not just from current players, but former NBA luminaries as well. During his MVP-winning regular season, he put up 23.8 points per game, which was sixth in the league. He shot 48.7 percent from the field, 44.3 percent from downtown and 91.4 percent from the free throw line, which was first among all qualified point guards.
His ascension to superstardom before our very eyes is what allows us to rightfully dole out due credit. In the past, we’ve customarily dismissed him from that best point guard in the league conversation because of his issues defensively and inability to stay healthy. But this season those conspicuous struggles were non-existent, as he was fourth in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus and second in steals per game among those at his position. He also played in 80 games this year for the first time since his rookie season.
Curry was first in the entire league in Real Plus-Minus and Wins Above Replacement, which are two stats that show just how valuable an individual is to their team’s success.
Curry has increased his scoring production in the playoffs, putting up 29.2 points per contest and setting a new playoff three-point record in the process, breaking Reggie Miller’s old record set in 2000. The Warriors sharpshooter has nailed 73 three-pointers in the playoffs thus far, blowing past Miller’s previous record of 58.
In addition to putting up all those points as the Warriors’ primary scoring threat, he can also play the role of decoy on the court because of his unlimited range and outstanding ability to shoot with confidence. He’s a threat as soon as he crosses half court.
Cleveland will have a tough time defending Curry, and as LeBron James so eloquently stated, you can’t slow him down, you can only hope to contain him. His ability to handle the basketball and get into the painted area causes trouble for opposing defenses. Falling for his pump-fake is a recipe for disaster because it allows him to penetrate, which opens the door for a plethora of options like finding shooters and cutters, or finishing himself.
The NBA isn’t giving out MVP awards like professors at some colleges are giving out A’s. These types of accolades are well deserved. Curry put on a show for the entire season, and he’ll be looking to do it against James and the Cavs. Cleveland has a conundrum on its hands: How do they stop Curry?
Well, healthy or not, some of that task will fall on the shoulders of Kyrie Irving. He’s been dealing with a knee problem that sidelined him for two games during the Eastern Conference Finals. That didn’t prove to be a devastating blow against the No. 1 seeded Atlanta Hawks, but if he isn’t healthy enough to consistently play against the Warriors, we might be looking at a short series.
In his first postseason, Irving has looked like a veteran at times who isn’t overcome by the moment, averaging 18.7 points on 43 percent shooting. More importantly, he’s shooting 48 percent from downtown, as he’s become more of a spot-up shooter for the Cavs in the wake of his nagging injuries. They’ll need some vintage Kyrie in this series against the Warriors … the Kyrie who can break down defenses using crossover wizardry and creative finishes at the rim.
James and Irving sparked headlines with some riff-raff during the season as it pertained to the team’s offense. LeBron felt that Irving wasn’t moving the ball enough and was too invested in the isolation game that helped him individually grow in the past, but never seemed to net any wins for the team. Not only is LeBron a proven winner, but he’s the best player in team history and sits on a throne disrupted by no one, so Irving knew it was time to be attentive.
Irving had 18 games during the season in which he failed to record more than three assists in a game. That’s unacceptable as a point guard, although many might argue that James is the true floor general on the team.
Since then, the relationship has improved for the two stars in Cleveland and the team has racked up W’s, which is the best cure to any problems on a team.
Irving said that playing alongside James has been helpful in a multitude of ways, particularly from the leadership standpoint. With the young roster and all the change experienced by the team, LeBron has had to adopt more of a leadership role, which has propelled the squad in a positive direction.
According to Chris Fedor of Northeast Ohio Media Group, Irving said he was speechless when he learned he’d be King James’s teammate and that he became a fan. But if he’s looking to help capture that elusive title for Cleveland, he’ll need to blink a few times to get the hearts out of his eyes. What the two-time champion and four-time league MVP will need more than anything is help from his partner in crime.
During the season, this tandem produced 47.0 points per game, which was the most of any duo in the league. The defense will look to zero in on LeBron, and he’ll need his teammates to step up to the plate and deliver just as Dwyane Wade and the others did in Miami. Irving will be looked upon for both scoring and defense, and keeping up with Curry won’t be an easy task, although Kyrie will get some help guarding the MVP.
Both point guards have risen to elite status in the NBA and will need to provide their teams with an ample amount of effort on both ends of the floor. Curry is the better player, but that doesn’t mean Irving will acquiesce to his greatness or MVP status. Defensively, both teams will have to make a concerted effort defending the pick-and-roll, which will frequently involve both guards.
We know Curry can light it up with the best of them. Many are already calling him the best shooter ever. But Irving isn’t a slouch either. We saw him explode for 57 points against the Spurs on the road in an overtime win during the season. We also saw him put up 55 against Portland at home in a victory. It should be exciting. It should be encapsulating. It should cause blood pressures to soar and appetites to be filled. Curry vs. Irving. Get ready for the fun.