NBA Finals 2017: Kyrie Irving vs. Stephen Curry
Come June 1st, NBA fans will be treated to the matchup that we’ve been waiting for all year: Cavs vs. Warriors Part III. The two teams have split the last two NBA Finals, and the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers will have to dig even deeper this year to repeat as champions against this installment of the Golden State Warriors who added Kevin Durant last July.
While everyone will be focusing on the matchup between LeBron James and the aforementioned Durant, the real matchup is the always debatable “who’s the better point guard” matchup featuring Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Golden State’s Stephen Curry. Irving, of course, hit the game winning shot against Curry in Game 7 of last year’s Finals, clinching the Cavs epic 3-1 comeback and securing the franchise’s first ever championship. Curry, who at the time was the league’s two-time defending MVP (and not to mention the league’s first ever unanimous MVP last year), was considered one of the league’s best players before that shot. Afterwards, his credentials were slightly questioned by fans, players, and analysts.
I fully expect LeBron James to put up ridiculous numbers, like he did in the last two Finals against the Warriors. Even though Durant will put up phenomenal numbers as well, James’ all-around game, and the fact that the Cavs system plays mostly through him, will all but guarantee that LeBron will have a better series. The only question will be HOW MUCH better does James play than Durant.
Because of this, the Irving/Curry duel will become the most important match-up in the series because whoever plays better will determine the outcome of the Finals. As mentioned, the Cavs are built for James to do a little of everything. The Warriors play more as a committee. So, assuming Durant does his part, it will be up to the others to put up great numbers as well to even the odds. That starts with Curry. In order for the Warriors to win, he has to outplay Irving, and really, he needs to dominate the matchup.
The problem is, Irving seems to have his number, averaging 27 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and a little under 1 block in last year’s Finals, according to Basketball Reference. And before going down due to injury for the remainder of the 2015 Finals, Irving finished Game 1 of that series with 23 points, 6 assists, 7 rebounds, 4 steals, and 2 blocks against Curry.
Curry has had good Finals appearances, but has not quite played up to the MVP caliber Curry that had fans falling in love with him. In 2015, he averaged 26 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, and little under 2 steals. Last year, Curry averaged 23 points, 4 assists, 5 rebounds, and little under 1 block and 1 steal per game. Again, not terrible numbers but not quite the ridiculous numbers that fans were used to seeing from Curry.
The difference between the two seems to be that Curry goes from potential NBA legend to just a superstar in the Finals, whereas Irving seems to go from superstar to potential legend in the Finals. The Warriors will need Curry to be a legend if they want to win. Hold onto this thought, it will come up again later…..
Curry is averaging 28.5 points per game and shooting 50% going into the Finals this year. Last year, Curry only averaged 25 points per game on 44% , and 28.3 points per game-on 46% going in 2015 Finals. That should be a good sign for Warriors fans, especially since the Dubs haven’t lost a game so far in the post season.
Irving on the other hand, is only averaging 24.5 points per game and shooting 47% from the field heading into the Finals this year, and had his best two games of the playoffs in Games 4 and 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics. Irving averaged 25 points a game and shot 48% going into the 2016 Finals.
It looks like the two starting point guards will be coming into the Finals hot, and more importantly, healthy. So, who has the edge? Who will do what it takes to clinch the crown for their teams? Well, let’s get back to this discussion on legends and superstars.
Both point guards are two of the best in the league. Both are superstars that can score from anywhere on the floor, and are nearly impossible to guard. But this is the Finals, and superstars don’t win rings. Only legends are crowned on this stage, and because of that, I’m putting my money on Irving and the Cavs.
Again, I wouldn’t go as far to say that Curry disappears in the Finals, but he is not the same player, by any stretch of the imagination. Even if you can convince me that Curry was hurt during last year’s Finals (he hurt his knee during the first round), it still doesn’t excuse his lack of focus, marksmanship, and clutch factor in the games where the Warriors needed him most. I bring up Kyrie’s stats from Game 1 of the 2015 Finals because he was noticeably hurt during that game and still came up big, including what could have been the game winning block on a healthy Steph Curry. Still in the 2015 Finals, Curry didn’t quite play up to his potential, and was even down 2-1 against a team that had LeBron James and really no one else offensively. Because of that, to me, whether he was hurt or not doesn’t give him a pass for not being the Curry that we’ve been accustomed to seeing for the better part of three years now.
I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I’d put my money on the guys who ELEVATE their games on the highest level, not the ones who cruise or even slightly decelerate. Curry could prove me wrong and come out on fire this year, but I haven’t seen it from him yet, so I can’t assume that he will. On the other hand, Irving has proven time and time again, that he plays his best ball when it matters most. Again, the last two games of the ECF against Boston when the Cavs were on the verge of dropping a second game to the Celtics, and when they really needed to close the series out, Irving had his best two performances of the playoffs so far, in a post-season where he hasn’t quite played up to his standards. That means he knows when to lock in and focus when the team really needs him to do so, and I believe that he’ll be able to do that again in the Finals.
I’m excited to see the Cavs and Warriors duke it out again for the third straight year. I believe that LeBron James is going to have another incredible Finals performance, and I also believe that Kyrie Irving will follow suite. Because of this, I think the Cavs will steal a game on the road at Oracle Arena, and win the series in six games. I just trust those two, especially Irving, more than I trust the stars on the Warriors. This is going to be a legendary Finals match, one that will cement LeBron as one of the greatest to ever play, and will stamp Irving’s ticket to the Hall of Fame as well.