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NBA Finals

NBA Finals 2019: Taking stock of the Finals MVP race heading into Game 5

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Finals MVP (NBA Getty Images)

With the Toronto Raptors now one win away from winning the title, now is as good of a time as ever to take stock of the race for Finals MVP.

The Raptors being in the driving seat makes Kawhi Leonard the clear favourite heading into Game 5, but who else should be in consideration?

Let's start from the top down...

Kawhi Leonard

Leonard's case is rather simple - he has been the best player on the team that is now one win away from winning the title.

Leonard is averaging 30.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.0 steals through four games. He had a quiet Game 1 by his standards, but he was huge in both of Toronto's wins in Golden State. After leading the Raptors in scoring with 30 points in Game 3, he scored a game-high 36 points in Game 4.

The Raptors wouldn't have come close to winning Game 4 without him. Not only did he carry them in the first quarter when everyone else on the team was struggling, Leonard set the tone in the third quarter, which is when they took control of the game. He opened the quarter with two "big-boy" shots and closed the period with a heavily contested pull-up over Klay Thompson to extend Toronto's lead to 12 points.

If the Raptors win the series, Leonard might have secured Finals MVP with his Game 4 performance.

Leonard hasn't made as much of an impact defensively in these Finals - especially when compared to what he did against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals - but the Raptors haven't needed him to. Fred VanVleet, Danny Green and Kyle Lowry have split responsibility of guarding Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, freeing Leonard to alternate between defending Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, neither of whom are big scoring threats.

If Leonard is named Finals MVP, he'll join a short-list of players that includes Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin Durant to win the award multiple times.

Stephen Curry

The only player scoring more than Leonard in these Finals is Curry, who is averaging 32.8 points per game.

He's shooting only 42.0 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from the 3-point line, but Curry has been the focus of Toronto's defence all series long. VanVleet has basically been glued to his hip for every second they've been on the court together and the Raptors have been aggressive in helping off of Golden State's non-shooters to prevent him from getting open looks.

It's not something they'd be able to do as easily if Kevin Durant were healthy, but they've taken full advantage of the Warriors being without the two-time Finals MVP.

Curry has still had some big moments despite Toronto's smothering defence. He showed up in Game 1 with a game-high 34 points. While he only scored 23 points in Game 2, the Warriors were able to punish the Raptors for loading up on him, primarily by using him as a screener.

Curry then exploded for 47 points in Game 3 - the second-most points a player has ever scored in a Finals loss - when the Warriors were without Klay Thompson in addition to Durant.

Working against Curry is that the Warriors are now on the brink of elimination and only one player in NBA history has been named Finals MVP on a losing team. Unless he can will the Warriors to three straight victories, he's unlikely to win the award.

Pascal Siakam

Siakam was at his best in Game 1 when he scored a team-high 32 points in a Raptors win.

Over the last 30 years, only four players have scored more points in their Finals debut and they're each Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers: Tim Duncan (33), Michael Jordan (36), Kevin Durant (36) and Allen Iverson (48).

Siakam was incredibly efficient, too, making 14 of his 17 field goal attempts. According to NBA.com's John Schuhmann, it was the best shooting game anyone has had against the Warriors on at least 15 field goal attempts over the last five years.

Siakam has cooled off since - largely because he's been a much bigger part of Golden State's game plan - but he is still Toronto's second-leading scorer for the series, averaging 20.3 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field. He's also made an impact in other areas, with 7.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 0.8 blocks per game.

Even though Leonard will likely win the award if the Raptors win, Siakam's contributions have been huge.

Kevin Durant

The ultimate wildcard.

There's still no word on whether or not he'll play in Game 5, but the Warriors coming back from a 3-1 deficit with Durant leading the way would set him up to win his third straight Finals MVP.

Is it likely to happen? Probably not. In addition to not knowing if he'll even take the court in these Finals, Durant hasn't played in over a month because of a right calf strain. As much of a roll as he was on prior to his injury, there's no guarantee he'd be able to pick up from where he left off - 31.5 points per game on ridiculous .513/.416/.901 shooting splits.

And yet, with how incredible Durant is, the possibility can't be ruled out.

Honourable Mention

Draymond Green for his all-around play. Green hasn't given the Warriors the scoring punch they've needed without Durant, but he's done basically everything else. In addition to being Golden State's most impactful defender, he's almost averaging a triple-double for the series with 13.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game.

Kyle Lowry for his all-around play. Similar to Green, Lowry has made up for his lack of scoring in other ways, mostly with his playmaking and defence. Lowry did, however, come up big in Game 3, scoring 23 points on 5-for-9 shooting from the 3-point line. It was much-needed with Curry going off for 47 points.

Klay Thompson for his two-way play. Thompson has been Golden State's second-leading scorer with 24.7 points per game. Other than Curry, he's been their only consistent threat from the perimeter, and he's made his usual impact on defence. The Warriors missed him tremendously in their Game 3 loss.

Fred VanVleet for his defence on Stephen Curry. VanVleet's case revolves entirely around his defence on Curry. According to NBA.com, VanVleet has defended Curry for a total of 132 possessions and has given up only 30 points on 30.8 percent shooting from the field. He has been Toronto's best option on the two-time MVP.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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