They say that the NBA Finals is the stage where stars elevate their games and become legends, cementing their legacies in the annals of history. And with the 2013 NBA Finals well underway, one cannot help but notice that 4 former NBA Finals MVP’s – LeBron, Wade, Duncan, and Parker – are taking the floor all at once. While this year’s Finals lore is still being written, now is as good a time as ever to take a look at the greatest Finals MVP performances of this millennium.
1. Shaquille O’Neal, Lakers, 2000
There’s a reason Kobe Bryant calls Shaq the most gifted physical specimen he’s ever seen. Having been swept in his only Finals appearance with Orlando in 1995, the Diesel wouldn’t be denied his first of four NBA rings in 2000. In Staples Center’s inaugural season, the freshly minted MVP carried his Lakers past the Pacers in the Finals, leaving a trail of destruction as he averaged 38 points on 61% shooting, 16.7 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, and over 45 minutes a game en route to a 4-2 series win – the first of three consecutive titles. This is Superman at his finest.
2. Dwyane Wade, Heat, 2006
With the Dallas Mavericks up 2-0 in the series and holding a comfortable 13-point lead with six minutes remaining in Game 3, the Mavs seemed destined to take home their first title in franchise history. Right then and there, however, the 24-year-old Wade propelled the Heat to an unfathomable comeback, scoring 12 points in those final six minutes. For the game, he dropped 42 points and 13 boards to lead the Heat to a 98-96 overtime victory. Devastated, the Mavs never recovered. With Shaq scoring only 14 points a game for the series, Wade exploded the next three games for 36, 43, and 36 points, averaging 7.8 boards and 2.7 steals per game along with a Finals record 97 total free throws. How’s that for “Flash”?
3. Tim Duncan, Spurs, 2003
After being swept in the Finals by the Lakers the previous year, the New Jersey Nets were hungry for their first franchise title. But unfortunately for Jason Kidd and his crew, Tim Duncan was hungrier for his second. Leading a Spurs squad that featured a declining David Robinson and inexperienced Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, Duncan scored 24.2 points, pulled 17 boards, and dealt 5.3 assists per game in the series. Perhaps more impressively, his unreal 5.3 blocks per game anchored the Spurs’ impenetrable defense. Barely missing a quadruple-double in the series-clinching Game 6 by two blocks, the Big Fundamental was on full display.
4. LeBron James, Heat, 2012
Having been eliminated in his last two trips to the Finals, skeptics believed that LeBron would slip yet again at the top of NBA mountain. However, last year LeBron finally silenced those who proclaimed he could not win an NBA ring. Matched against rising stars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, LeBron nevertheless pulverized the Thunder defense. He posted monster numbers along the way with 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game. To top it off, he unleashed a 26/11/13 triple-double in the series-clinching Game 5. And with that, the King was crowned Finals MVP.
5. Kobe Bryant, Lakers, 2009
The sports world said Kobe couldn’t lead a championship team without Shaq. But in 2009, the world was at long last proven wrong. In the first of back-to-back titles in the post-Shaq era, Kobe notched 40 points in the Game 1 opener against Orlando. Facing a staunch Magic defense led by Defensive Player of the Year (and future Laker) Dwight Howard, Kobe went off against any defender thrown his way, posting 32.4 points, 5.6 boards, and 7.4 assists for the series. How’d Kobe feel about the critics? “You just accept the challenge and try to prove them wrong.” And prove them wrong he did.
*Is someone missing from this list? Give your thoughts in the comments below.