There’s a lot more to the NBA finals than just a matchup between the team’s two biggest stars, LeBron James and Stephen Curry, but those two guys, who just so happen to be MVPs as well, will be the ones people focus on the most as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors play for the NBA title.
So where do we begin? With their CV.
James is in his 12th NBA season. He’s a two-time NBA champion, a four-time MVP, two-time Finals MVP, 11-time NBA All-Star and probably the best small forward in the history of the game. Regardless of how successful he has been, he’s still one of the most hated players in the league and no matter how many championships he wins, he’ll have those calling him a loser, not clutch, and referred to as someone who needs great players around him to win championships. Which is pretty much the outlier for every great player in NBA history.
Stephen Curry has been in the league for six seasons. From an oft injured talented shooter he’s blossomed into one of the best players in the league (the 2015 MVP) and already one of the greatest shooters in history if not the best, hitting 44% of his 3-point attempts so far in his career. He’s not James, but he might be just as important and influential on his team this season.
James is going to guard Curry for a few possessions although the Cavaliers really do have someone like Shumpert or Dellavedova who can give Curry a very hard time. Considering how short the Cavs’ rotation is with Irving borderline healthy, Blatt might not be able to afford to put James on Curry. Also James is a bit slower than in years past, which makes his expertise in guarding point guards a little outdated.
Curry isn’t going to defend James. No point going there. Curry isn’t a very good defender, but he doesn’t take plays off on defense, which is enough when you have Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala on your side. Curry helps on traps and that’s about it. He has good coverage behind him that allows him to take risks and not worry too much about getting blown by a point guard like Irving.
Beyond abilities, which on offense are quite different (James will be busy attacking the rim while hoping to regain his outside shot which is close to dead in these playoffs, Curry can shoot from anywhere and is a nightmare off the screen especially), there are the expectations, which go hand in hand with public perception.
Curry, like James once was, is a media and fan darling. He’s on the same team that drafted him, growing along with the Warriors’ improvement. He doesn’t do much talking on or off the court, he doesn’t rub people the wrong way, and he still hasn’t lost enough to make people start resenting him.
James, despite his titles has something to prove. Why? Because he keeps getting compared to others; historical greats. Once he reaches or passes a milestone, it’s on to someone else that has a number better than him. Championships aren’t a way to compare players, but unless James wins another one, it’ll be another factor in his list of do’s and don’ts haters will have to hold against him. When you’re one of the best players in history, there’s no such thing as ‘nothing to prove’. Curry, like Durant in 2012, has a clean slate. Give him a bit more time at or near the top, and the negative feelings towards him will start floating as well.