Five years ago today, the dynasty was born.
On June 16, 2015, the Golden State Warriors won the NBA title and officially set the wheels in motion on one of the greatest extended runs in NBA history. Five straight trips to the Finals and three titles later, there's inscrutable evidence that the Warriors have forever left an indelible mark on the game.
It's a five-year run that's catapulted Stephen Curry into historical conversations. Two MVPs, 3-point records, a scoring title and three rings... but one glaring omission: Finals MVP.
The debate about Curry or Kevin Durant in 2018 we'll save for another day but given it's the five-year anniversary of the first championship, it's time to reignite the raging firestorm over the 2015 Finals MVP award that ultimately went to Andre Iguodala.
Two of our Global NBA.com writers - Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13) and Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles) - rehashed the cases for Iguodala and Curry before stepping back to take a bigger picture look on what it means five years later.
Five years later... did they get it right?
Adams: Let's cut straight to the chase.
This was a three-horse race ultimately won by Iguodala, who received seven of the 11 votes with James receiving the other four. Curry did not receive a single vote.
I'll let you start. Did Iguodala rightfully win?
Rafferty: I think he did. Look, it might surprise you to hear that I don't feel particularly strong about this either way. I have no problem with Iguodala winning it because of the impact he was able to make on both ends (which we'll get into), but I'm well aware that there are people like you who think it's an abomination that Curry wasn't named Finals MVP.
Adams: It's an utter abomination.
Rafferty: Lol. There it is.
Adams: I really don't want this to turn into an Iguodala slamfest but he won because of his defence and the guy he was guarding averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists for the series.
What are we doing?
And for what it's worth, that narrative started straight from the jump. Check out this headline from PhillyVoice.com following Game 1 in which LeBron finished with 44-8-6: "Finally in perfect role, Iguodala shuts down LeBron in Game 1."
Rafferty: I'm glad you brought that up! LeBron was incredible in that series, I won't deny that, but he was a different player when Iguodala was on the court. And while the matchup data isn't available, I remember Iguodala being matched up with LeBron pretty much every minute he was on the court, which makes these numbers all the more impressive:
|Iguodala on the court||26.1||10.5||7.0||2.9||38.1||30.0||-9.5|
|Iguodala on the bench||34.9||10.5||6.6||2.2||43.9||33.3||16.6|
LeBron's efficiency fell off a cliff and the Warriors destroyed the Cavaliers in the minutes Iguodala was on the court. That matters.
Adams: I wrote a piece after Game 5 of that series detailing all of Iguodala's efforts in making LeBron work VERY hard. He forced him into tons of tough jumpers, he rarely switched off of him and generally speaking, Iggy's impact defensively caused Cleveland's efficiency to drop off a cliff.
And yes. It matters. But it doesn't make him the Finals MVP.
Likewise, I'm happy you brought up the on/off impact because I have some as well.
OK, so legend goes that - down 2-1 - Warriors assistant Nick U'Ren goes to Steve Kerr following Game 3 and suggests moving Iguodala into the starting lineup. They made the switch, the Warriors won three straight and the rest is history.
Iguodala's impact - again, it was massive - over those final three games swung the Finals MVP tide.
Do I have your attention yet?
Adams: You don't seem enthused.
Rafferty: TELL ME MORE!
Adams: Over those final three games - when Iguodala's tall tale expanded to Paul Bunyan levels of hype - the Warriors had a net rating of +22.1 with Curry on the floor... and -44.8 with him off the floor.
That's a swing of 66.9 points per 100 possessions, an impact that dwarfed that of Iggy. The Warriors literally couldn't manage to tread water for even 18 minutes without the MVP on the floor.
Rafferty: So what? You have to take the whole series into account. Like, the Cavaliers outscored the Warriors by a total of nine points in the series with Curry on the court and Iguodala on the bench. With both of them on the court, the Warriors outscored the Cavaliers by 61.
If raw plus-minus isn't your thing, the Warriors went from being outscored by 5.4 points per 100 possessions with Curry on the court and Iguodala on the bench to outscoring the Cavaliers by 15.5 points with both of them on the court.
We can do this all day.
The fact of the matter was that the Warriors kicked up a gear when Iguodala was on the court because he was defending LeBron better than anyone else on the Warriors could on one end and then tying everything together on the other. I know Curry's numbers were better, but it wasn't like Iguodala was a slouch. He averaged 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists while shooting 40% from the perimeter - oh, and on 5.8 3-point attempts per game!
Let's not act like Iguodala wasn't a worthy candidate at all.
Adams: I'm glad you brought up some box score numbers because for all of the on/off wizardry, those do in fact matter as well.
I never said Iguodala was a slouch. He was very good! But the Cavaliers essentially abandoned Iguodala, dared him to shoot and he made them pay. And it's all because of Curry. There's years of evidence to suggest that it's Curry more than anyone that stirs the drink in Golden State.
And when looking closer at Iguodala's shots - again, not his fault and he played his role extremely well - it becomes even clearer that he's far more of an opportunistic scorer than someone offensively willing his team to the finish line.
The majority of Iguodala's attempts in the series - 49 of the 69 - were jumpers. Of those, all but three of them came with no defender within even four feet of him. Of his 69 shots, 44 came with zero dribbles with another 10 coming with just a single bounce. The Cavs made a conscious decision to make Iggy beat them and while he did, all of that stems from the degree to which Curry impacts everything else.
Rafferty: See, that's the best argument. You should have just started there. Because I agree with you. If Curry wasn't the player that he is, there would have been a lot more attention on Iguodala than there was and there's no way he plays as well as he did. Still, give credit where credit is due - the Cavaliers gave him those shots and he made them.
What you just said reminded me of one of my favorite plays of Curry's career. If there was ever a sequence that illustrates how terrified teams were of him, it's this one of J.R. Smith running out to him on the 3-point line to give Kevin Durant, a four-time scoring champion and one of the greatest players in NBA history, a wide open dunk:
Adams: Couldn't agree more and it happens all the time.
Look, I said off the top I don't want to turn this into an Iggy slamfest and I'm already feeling too many Wrestlemania vibes so let's shift the focus back towards Curry for a minute.
I honestly think it's outrageous he didn't snag a single vote.
Here are his numbers for the series: 26.0 points, 6.3 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals while logging 42.5 minutes per game.
While it's true he didn't shoot the ball particularly well - 44% overall and 39% from 3 - much of that stems from essentially one bad game when he went 5-for-23 in a Game 2 loss.
I feel like Curry - more than perhaps anyone else - gets one or two bad games held against him, something that would crop up again in both of the years that Durant won Finals MVP. They won the series and that Game 2 somehow outweighs what he did in Game 5 tied at 2-2 when Curry exploded for 37 points to offset yet another 40-point triple-double by LeBron.
Rafferty: Oh, I can't believe he didn't get a single vote either. I didn't even know that until you mentioned it to me today and I thought you were joking.
This is ultimately what it comes down to to me...
- Stephen Curry is the reason the Warriors are the Warriors
- Curry had a great series - a better series than people remember
- The Warriors were at their best with Iguodala on the court
- Iguodala had a great series - a better series than people probably give him credit for nowadays
- The Cavaliers basically played the Warriors to a standstill when Iguodala was on the bench and couldn't keep up with them when he was on the court
Adams: I don't necessarily disagree with any individual points. I think we just differ on the overall importance of them respectively. Iggy's impact helped swing the series in the margins. But without Curry, there are no margins to swing.
For what it's worth, Iguodala's best game of the series came in the decisive Game 6 which certainly helped further drive the narrative. But know who was better in that one as well? Curry.
Rafferty: I mean, they both scored 25 points, grabbed a similar amount of rebounds (six for Curry, five for Iguodala), dished out a similar number of assists (eight for Curry, five for Iguodala) and shot a similar percentage from the field (8-for-19 for Curry, 9-for-20 for Iguodala). There wasn't much in it.
We don't need to debate one single game. I just don't think it's a disgrace that Iguodala was named Finals MVP is all.
Adams: All nine of Iguodala's buckets in the decisive Game 6 were assisted, with four helpers coming courtesy of Curry.
History will show Iguodala and not Curry as a Finals MVP, which at the time felt inconsequential. And in a vacuum, it's something that doesn't really matter except when it comes to talking about Curry's place in the larger context of NBA history.
Does it matter that Curry has no Finals MVPs?
Adams: Curry has three championships and no Finals MVPs. Does that matter?
Rafferty: Personally, I don't think it does because I feel like everyone knows how valuable Curry is to the Warriors, but we know how this game is played. In 20 years from now when people are debating about who the best point guard of all-time is, people will use Curry not winning a Finals MVP against him.
Adams: History matters in sports, particularly with the greats. The myth-making apparatus weighs tremendously on how we remember certain players. We just saw it all play out with Michael Jordan in "The Last Dance" and it comes up all the time when talking about Kobe Bryant, who until winning those two Finals MVPs in 2009 and 2010 was a three-time champion with a Shaq-sized "but" lingering in the shadows.
Smart fans and smart pundits know Curry's value. But those one-line Wikipedia accomplishments matter and fair or not, the in-the-moment decision to hand that Finals MVP award to Iguodala instead of Curry is one that will have reverberating effects on how we talk about this 10, 20 or even 50 years from now.
Rafferty: I agree with that. I mean, I'm guilty of doing those things. It feels like we've been living in the 1980s and 90s lately because of "The Last Dance." Because I didn't start following the NBA until the 2000s, the easiest way for me to get an idea of how valuable certain players were during those eras is by looking at their accomplishments.
That doesn't necessarily apply to the likes of Jordan, Bird and Magic, but when you are comparing players, it's usually the easiest way to go about it.
Adams: Those three names are important here.
Because I honestly do think that's the type of realm Curry was headed towards in the larger conversations. There are certain players who don't carry the one-line rebuttal. Jordan, Bird, Magic, Russell, Wilt, LeBron, Shaq, Duncan, Hakeem, Kobe. Kevin Durant might get there someday too if he already isn't, as could Kawhi Leonard (although if he fails to win an MVP, it's a different version of the same conversation we're having right now).
Without a Finals MVP, it just becomes too easy and too convenient to cast aside Curry when venturing down the path of debating the pantheon level names.
And that's why I think it ultimately matters.
Rafferty: Right. Because, again, nuance gets lost over time.
We probably won't talk about how much Curry had to sacrifice to make it work with Durant. Plays like the one I showed of Smith gravitating towards him on the 3-point line even though Durant is going full speed towards the basket will probably be forgotten because nothing particularly meaningful happened. As incredible as Curry's numbers have been over the last few years, not even those show how much of an impact he's truly had.
Adams: Saying that Stephen Curry's brilliance allowed for Andre Iguodala to win Finals MVP might be the perfect way of articulating his understated yet oversized impact.
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