SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Nearly a year ago, Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving hit the game-winning and championship-clinching three-pointer in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
That clutch basket came over the outstretched hand of Irving’s backcourt rival of the Golden State Warriors, the reigning two-time MVP, Stephen Curry.
At the time of the historic game, Irving was just 24 and Curry was 28 and since then, Irving has been considered one of the premiere late-game performers in the league.
He has also had Curry’s card since that moment.
This year’s finals will be a chance for “Chef Curry” to redeem himself after being outplayed by the crafty Irving in the 2016 series.
Curry is averaging 28.6 points per game in this season’s playoffs along with 5.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the floor.
Irving is not too far off at 24.5 ppg, 5.6 apg and 2.4 rpg on 46 percent shooting.
By the numbers, Curry is clearly playing better. But tomorrow, these numbers go out the door.
Tomorrow, the finals begin as the two teams meet for a third consecutive season looking to break the 1-1 tie.
In 2015, Irving went down with a knee injury in Game 1 of the finals, forcing him to miss the rest of the series which the Warriors went on to win, although, it was veteran reserve Andre Iguodala, not Curry, who won finals MVP.
Last year, Irving came back stronger than ever, posting a 27.1 ppg/3.9 apg/3.9 rpg statline.
His counterpart Curry, during his unanimous MVP season, put up a lowly 22.6 ppg/3.7 apg/4.9 rpg. I say lowly because he averaged a career-best 30.1 ppg during the 2016 regular season.
And though Curry won’t draw the defensive assignment of slowing down Irving — that will go to Curry’s fellow splash brother Klay Thompson — Irving will guard the Bay Area’s proclaimed “Golden Boy.”
But when it comes to defense, neither floor general is considered good and is rather labeled decent at best.
In fact, neither point guard is its teams floor general either. For the Cavaliers, it’s Lebron James and for the Warriors, it’s Draymond Green.
Irving can’t guard Curry and Curry can’t guard Irving, but this matchup has been in favor of Irving as was evident in Game 7 when Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue designed a play to create a switch, forcing Curry, not Thompson, to defend Irving.
Now, with the addition of a former MVP in Kevin Durant, the pressure on the Warriors to win a title is perhaps more suffocating this season than last, especially after blowing a 3-1 lead.
But the pressure on Curry to outshine Irving is surely lurking in the back of his mind
Having won two straight MVP awards and being tagged as the face of the NBA means Curry needs to elevate his play to the superstar level everyone has seen countless times before.
Should Irving outplay Curry again, the claim as the best point guard in the league could make a drastic leap in Uncle Drew’s favor.
And though Curry will primarily guard swingman JR Smith, he is bound to face Irving throughout the series and for the Warriors sake, he better tighten up that defense.
Look for Curry to come out attacking from the opening tip-off. He’s my pick for finals MVP.
All stats acquired from Basketball-Reference.com