Let’s get this out of the way right now. Barring a major unforeseen circumstance, Golden State forward Andre Iguodala is not winning the Finals MVP. That award typically goes to the player who averages the most points for the team that wins—Stephen Curry—or for an outstanding performance by someone from the losing team—like LeBron James would be if the series continues down the path it’s on now.
But only once has the MVP not gone to a player on the winning team, and that was Jerry West in 1969—the first year the NBA gave out such an award. And only once has the award gone to someone who averaged less than Iguodala’s current 14.6 points per game (Wes Unseld in 1978) Finals average. (One time, it went to Kobe Bryant after he shot just 6-for-24 in Game 7 in 2010, but that’s a whole other story.)
But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t. Which is why Iguodala should take home the hardware if the Warriors keep this up while continuing to put him in the starting lineup, as they have the previous two games.
His insertion has changed the complexity of the series.
Through the first three games, the Cavaliers looked like they had Golden State’s number.
Curry had been held in check by scrappy guard Matthew Dellavedova, and the Warriors big men had been neutralized by Cleveland’s bigs. Meanwhile, LeBron had provided just enough offense to win.
Needing a spark, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr decided to play small ball and inserted the 6-foot-6 Iguodala into the starting lineup for Games 4 and 5, while benching 7-foot center Andrew Bogut, and the ploy has worked wonders.
Iguodala, who was a starter his whole career until Kerr convinced him before this season that coming off the bench would set a great example to his teammates, put up 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the Game 4 win; and in Game 5, he had 14 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists.
His fast-breaking speed and stellar defense on LeBron have been a huge spark for a team that got off to slow starts in Games 1, 2, and 3.
Moreover, with Golden State winning with small ball in Game 4, the Cavaliers had to adjust for Game 5, by going small themselves. Consequently, without a real shot-blocker in the lane, Curry has become even more dangerous. The MVP of the regular season put up 37 points in the Game 5 win, while having more room to operate.
When Unseld took home the award in 1978, it was because voters looked at his hustle on both ends of the court as well as on the glass as the 6-foot-7 forward grabbed 11.7 rebounds per game. He also provided stellar interior defense as his Washington Bullets defeated the Seattle Supersonics in seven games.
Should Golden State continue to win (they only need one more to clinch) with Iguodala continuing to ignite the team as a starter, he’ll have been the most valuable player in the series—even if he doesn’t win MVP.