2018 NBA Finals: Can LeBron James Win Finals MVP in Defeat?
On Wednesday night, Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors staged a dramatic come-from-behind victory to take a 3-0 series lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers. No team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series, so the writing is on the wall for the Cavaliers at this point. Just like 28 other teams in the league, the Cavs don’t have enough firepower to keep up with the vaunted Warriors’ attack.
With the Warriors on the brink of a second straight title and a third in 4 years, the only drama that remains is the matter of who will take home the Finals MVP trophy. Kevin Durant took home the award last year after winning his first career championship, and he may be well on his way to winning it again.
Durant put up one of the best performances in Finals history in Game 3. The Slim Reaper controlled almost every facet of the game, which is impressive considering he was sharing the floor with LeBron James and Steph Curry, among others. KD finished with 43 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists in 43 minutes in the 110-102 victory. He rained 15 of his 23 shots, including 6 of 9 from 3-point range. The dagger was a 33-foot triple that Durant ruthlessly sank right in the face of J.R. Smith.
Here is how the odds to win Finals MVP currently shape up:
- Kevin Durant -300
- Stephen Curry +300
- LeBron James +700
- Field +3300
- Draymond Green +5000
- Klay Thompson +5000
I think Durant stitched up his case to win the award in Game 3, but there is still time for somebody else to rise up and seize it.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Warriors’ run of titles is the fact that Steph Curry is about to miss out on winning Finals MVP for a third time. Steph has won a pair of regular season MVP awards and he has been tabbed by most as Golden State’s best player. That said, his efforts have gone unrewarded thus far in the Finals. Andre Iguodala controversially won the award in 2015 before Durant did so last season.
Curry has the second-best odds to win it at +300, but he hasn’t played all that well. He slagged his way to a 3-16 shooting effort in Game 3, including just 1 make from beyond the arc on 10 tries. He did score 33 points in Game 2 in Oakland, but he shot just 42 percent from the floor that night, as well.
Durant has put the team on his back, and he’s understandably the most likely player from either team to win it. KD has shot a blazing 57 percent from the field through the first 3 games of the series, and he’s averaging 31.6 points per game. Durant is also averaging more than 10 rebounds and just under 7 assists. He has done everything the Warriors could have hoped offensively and much more. The playmaking alone has been stellar, especially considering the Warriors typically don’t lean on Durant for his passing.
How’d the Cavs Get Here?
If the award were called “best player in the finals” instead of “most valuable player” LeBron James would have a much more legitimate claim. The Cavaliers were always going to need LeBron to be otherworldly, and he’s lived up to billing. So far in the finals, James is averaging 37.6 points, 10.6 assists and 9 rebounds per game.
In Game 1, he dropped 51 points in a game Cleveland absolutely should have won. Were it not for a changed foul call and/or J.R. Smith’s massive gaffe late in the game, we may be talking about a completely different series at this point.
Coming into the series, few expected Cleveland to put up much of a fight. The Cavs finished as the No. 4 seed in the East this season, and they were taken to 7 games in the first round of the playoffs by a generally unremarkable Indiana Pacers team. The Cavs went on to obliterate the humiliated Toronto Raptors in a second-round sweep before disposing of the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.
This is the worst team the Cavs have had since LeBron came back to Cleveland in 2010, so it’s remarkable that they’re even in the Finals in the first place. The offseason deal that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston was always going to hamper the Cavs’ title hopes. The team got worse in the deal, and they also underwent a massive roster overhaul around the trade deadline.
Those deadline deals didn’t do much to make the Cavaliers any better. Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson haven’t helped much at all. George Hill’s best days are clearly in the past. The Cavs are where they are because of exactly one person.
Can LeBron Win Finals MVP?
For James to have a serious shot at winning Finals MVP, he’s going to have to avoid getting swept, first of all. It’s hard to make the case that a player is the most valuable player in a series in which his team fails to even win a game. The Cavs had real chances to win both Games 1 and 3, yet wound up coming up short in both instances.
The Cavaliers aren’t winning the series at this point, but LeBron can at least pad his MVP case by extending the inevitable defeat. Losing the Finals on their home court wouldn’t be ideal, so it wouldn’t be super shocking to see the Cavaliers come out and win Game 4. They did the exact same thing last year after falling into an 0-3 hole before the Warriors ultimately clinched in Game 5. Game 5 would be back in Oakland.
James would be a stone-cold lock to win Finals MVP if the Cavs were to stage the ultimate comeback, but what are the chances of that? As of this writing, the Warriors are a -200 favorite to win Game 4 in Cleveland. The Dubs are now listed at -20000 to win the title, with the Cavs at +7500. This thing is done and dusted.
The odds on LeBron winning Finals MVP are profitable at +700, but an awful lot is going to have to happen for that to become a reality at this point. The award is Durant’s to lose, without question. I don’t hate the idea of a full-on punt on LeBron for +700, but at this point, it’s worth nothing but a flier.