Steph Curry and the curiously wide-open race for Finals MVP

CLEVELAND — From the ultimate “Good Problem To Have” collection comes this gem from ESPN Stats & Information researcher Micah Adams:

Stephen Curry is halfway to an unwanted feat — for the second time. It’s a feat that was only accomplished once in league history before it happened to ‎Steph last season.

Allow us to explain.

Since the NBA introduced its Finals MVP award in 1969, 17 reigning league MVPs went on to win that same season’s championship, according to Stats & Info:

Only two of those 17 failed to add a Finals MVP trophy to their ‎regular-season hardware.

The two exceptions? The first was when the Los Angeles LakersMagic Johnson won the Finals MVP instead of league MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1980.

The second was when Andre Iguodala beat out Curry in 2015.

As a result, one of the more interesting story arcs in the 2016 Finals, which resume with Wednesday night’s Game 3 in Cleveland (9 ET, ABC), is the state of Steph, given that Curry averaged such a paltry (for him) 14.5 points per game in the Golden State Warriors’ first two victories over the Cavaliers.

Which means he’s not exactly in pole position for Finals MVP in 2016, either.

Of course, there’s still a long way to go in the series, and a strong argument could be made that it’s ridiculously early to even be talking about candidates for Finals MVP, even though Golden State is off to the most lopsided start in Finals history, seizing a commanding 2-0 series lead by the whopping combined total of 48 points.

‎Yet how strange would it be if Team 73-9 mustered the two wins it needed to become a back-to-back NBA champion without Curry emerging as the difference-maker?

“I don’t know how to answer that one,” Curry said at the podium after Game 2 when presented ‎with this very conundrum. “You can fall in love with numbers and comparing averages to what people might expect or whatnot. Right now we’re up two games to [none] and everybody’s doing what we need to do to make that happen.

“So, looking forward to trying to get Game 3. That’s it. That’s all I’m worried about.”

Fair enough.

Curry has certainly earned the right to ignore all but the next game, having averaged 26.7 points per game in 11 playoff outings coming into the Finals, while also having been robbed of six full games by knee and ankle injuries.

The basketball truth is that the relentless defensive attention Cleveland has paid to trapping and shadowing Curry keeps creating mammoth opportunities for his teammates, most notably Shaun Livingston (20 points in Game 1) and Draymond Green (28 points in Game 2).

“They’re really collapsing on Steph and Klay [Thompson],” Green says.

Rest assured, Curry’s mere presence has an effect even when he doesn’t go into “Human Torch mode,” as his fellow Splash Brother, Mr. Thompson, likes to say.

Still …

The onus is on Curry to be Curry now that the series has shifted to hostile territory for Golden State. Steph has a chance to usher his team to the brink of the best two-season run this league has ever season by winning just one of the next two games in Cleveland, which countless observers now expect will happen.

The suspicion being whispered among Warriors coaches and players is that Steph, sensing the kill, will be much sharper at The Q than he was in the Warriors’ two strolls at home.

Especially if he stays out of foul trouble.

“He picked up silly fouls,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday. “He was his own worst enemy in Game 2 and we were fortunate to play well without him and win the game. But he can’t reach … he had three just crazy reaches and slap-downs on guys’ arms and wrists. He’s got to be more disciplined than that. We need him on the floor.‎”

Something tells me Curry would learn to live with anyone in blue and gold snagging the Finals MVP if it meant another championship to tack onto Golden State’s 2015 breakthrough crown, his two Maurice Podoloff trophies and the record-setting 73 wins.

The enthusiasm he showed on the bench in Sunday night’s third quarter for his co-workers, while he was saddled with those four fouls, should have made that clear.

Yet, there’s also no denying that it would be uncomfortable if No. 30 went 0-for-2 in the race for what is nowadays known as the Bill Russell Award.

Not quite as uncomfortable as LeBron James falling to 2-for-5 in the Finals.

But it’s still something you’d be hearing about plenty, amid all the inevitable shouting down of King James.

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