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NBA Players That Could Have Won The Conference Finals MVP Award In The Last 10 Years: LeBron James Deserved To Win 8 Trophies

NBA Players That Could Have Won The Conference Finals MVP Award In The Last 10 Years: LeBron James Deserved To Win 8 Trophies

The NBA has finally caught up to modern times. In Major League Baseball, the league awards the championship series victor with the most valuable player. This year, the NBA announced that the top performers of the Eastern and Western Conferences would be rewarded for their play in the championship series. It has been a long time coming as the NBA has redesigned some of its trophies over time.

The championship trophy is named after Larry O’Brien, while the Finals MVP is named after Bill Russell. Starting this year, the conference championship trophies were named after Bob Cousy for the East and Oscar Robertson for the West. While dozens of players remain unrecognized, you have to give the NBA credit for this. The next awards on the agenda should be awards for players in the first and second rounds.

With that said, the NBA added a new award for Conference Finals MVP. This year, we were able to enjoy the first set of winners of the Larry Bird Eastern Conference Finals MVP and Magic Johnson Western Conference Finals MVP. Those went to Jayson Tatum and Steph Curry respectively as the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors are set to face off in the NBA Finals this Thursday. While we should celebrate their success, it makes you wonder who else was deserving of this award. It should have come out 10 years ago. Maybe even further back.

With that said, these are the last 20 players, 10 from each conference from the last 10 Conference Finals, that should have been named a Conference Finals MVP. 


Larry Bird Eastern Conference Finals MVP Award


2011-12 - LeBron James (Miami Heat)

LeBron James 2012

Eastern Conference Finals: Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics 4-3

Stats: 33.6 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.3 BPG

It was the first year that James won an NBA championship. To get there, the Heat had to defeat a former championship team of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen to get there. The series went seven games and a battle of Hall of Fame talent on both sides. The best of the best was James, who led all scorers in five of the seven games, as well as all rebounders in three games.

The Celtics held a 3-2 series lead after Game 5. To avoid elimination, James led the Heat to a 98-79 victory with 45 points and 15 rebounds to force a Game 7. In the final game, James led Miami with 31 points and 12 rebounds in a 101-88 victory. Dwyane Wade added 21.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.9 assists for the series, but it was clearly James that was the best in the series.


2012-13 - LeBron James (Miami Heat)

LeBron James 2013

Eastern Conference Finals: Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers 4-3

Stats: 29.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.4 BPG

James won the NBA championship in 2012 and 2013 with the Heat. What we forget is that it took two seven games series in the Conference Finals to even make it to the Finals. In these Finals, Paul George and the Pacers pushed the Heat to seven games in a highly watched back-and-forth battle. James led all scorers in all seven games.

James scored at least 30 points in four games. That included 30 points in a 103-102 win in Game 1, as well as 30 points in a 90-79 Game 5 win. In Game 7, James led the Heat with 32 points in a 99-76 win. For The series, the second-leading scorer was Wade at 15.4 points per game. James doubled that production himself.


2013-14 - LeBron James (Miami Heat)

LeBron James 2014

Eastern Conference Finals: Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers 4-2

Stats: 22.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.8 BPG

The Heat and Pacers had a rematch in 2014, but the Heat came out on top in six games. Wade would have given James a run for his money in this series. Wade averaged 19.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.7 steals. He also shot 46% from three-point range and 54.5% from the field. With that said, James was consistent for the series and led the team in points, assists, and steals.

The difference in the series would have been James leading the Heat to wins in Game 3 and Game 4, scoring 26 and 32 points respectively. In Game 6, James also scored 25 points to tie Chris Bosh for the most on the team. In his last Conference Finals with the Heat, James would have likely gone four for four had we included the 2011 Conference Finals as well.


2014-15 - LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)

LeBron James 2015

Eastern Conference Finals: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks 4-0

Stats: 30.3 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 9.3 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.5 BPG2016 - LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)

The Atlanta Hawks were the No. 1 seed in the East during James’ first season back with the Cavaliers. However, James let the team remember who the best truly was. The Cavaliers made quick work of the Hawks by sweeping the team in four games. James led all scorers in all four games. That included 31, 30, 37, and 23 points in those four wins.

James had his best game in Game 3 when he led Cleveland with 37 points and 18 rebounds in a 114-111 win at home. For the series, Kyrie Irving missed two games, while Kevin Love did not play a single game. Yet, James still managed to pull off the sweep and average over 30 points per game.


2015-16 - LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)

LeBron James 2015

Eastern Conference Finals: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raptors 4-2

Stats: 26.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 6.7 APG, 2.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG

Despite Kyrie Irving leading the team in scoring in two of the opening wins, James would take this award by a narrow margin. Irving averaged 24.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.8 steals for the series. While those are great numbers, James managed to do just a little bit more for the team. What stands out the most is that James would have won this award and not led the team in scoring three of the four wins.

Irving’s 27 and 26 points paced the Cavaliers in the first two games. After dropping two games, the Cavaliers used 25 points from Kevin Love in Game 5. In the end, LeBron James erupted in Game 6 with 33 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists to lead the team to a 113-87 win to make the NBA Finals.


2016-17 - LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)

LeBron James 2016

Eastern Conference Finals: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics 4-1

Stats: 29.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 6.8 APG, 2.2 SPG, 1.2 BPG

With Irving and Love healthy, the Cavaliers were not going to be stopped by the younger Celtics squad. James taught Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown some valuable lessons with a five-game series win. The Cavaliers won the first two games of the series in Boston, with James leading the way with 38 points in Game 1 and 30 points in Game 2.

After the Celtics stole a game in Cleveland, Irving scored 42 points in Game 4, but he overshadowed James’ 34 points. In the final win, James scored 35 points to lead a 135-102 blowout win. Irving averaged 25.8 points and shot 62.2% from the field, as well as finished 50-40-90 for the series. But, it’s hard to believe that voters would have voted Irving over James for this.


2017-18 - LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)

LeBron James 2018

Eastern Conference Finals: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics 4-3

Stats: 33.6 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 8.4 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.1 BPG

This seven-game series was one to watch. The Celtics held a 3-2 advantage before LeBron James went on a tear to force a Game 7 and then win on the road in Boston. James was the leading scorer from both teams in six of the seven games. He led both teams in points and rebounds in Games 6 and 7.

He scored over 40 points three times. That included 42 points in a loss in Game 2. James scored 44 points in game 4 to tie the series 2-2. After losing Game 5, James scored 46 points and added 11 rebounds in game 6 and then scored 35 points and 15 rebounds in the Game 7 victory. The win was even sweeter given that Kyrie Irving, his former teammate, was on the Celtics at this time.


2018-19 - Kawhi Leonard (Toronto Raptors)

Kawhi Leonard

Eastern Conference Finals: Toronto Raptors vs. Milwaukee Bucks 4-2

Stats: 29.8 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 4.3 APG, 2.2 SPG, 1.0 BPG

Hands down, the greatest player of this series was Kawhi Leonard. It would have been his only Conference Finals MVP in the East, as it was his only season playing for his Eastern Conference team in his career. When you look at the numbers, Leonard nearly averaged 30 points and also nearly averaged a double-double. He shot 88.5% at the free-throw line and averaged a whopping 2.2 steals per game against a formidable offensive opponent in the Bucks, who had the league’s MVP on their team.

Leonard was the only player to average at least 20 points per game for the Raptors. Despite having players like Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka, Leonard managed to nearly average double-digit rebounds. He would have swept the Finals and Conference Finals MVP this season.


2019-20 - Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat)

Bam Adebayo

Eastern Conference Finals: Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics 4-2

Stats: 21.8 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 5.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.0 BPG

Three players averaged more points per game than Jimmy Butler in this series. That included Tyler Herro and Goran Dragic, but this Conference Finals MVP would have gone to the 22-year-old Bam Adebayo. In this series, Adebayo led the Heat in scoring, rebounding, and playmaking. His 5.2 assists per game led the team, as did his 21.8 points and 11.0 rebounds.

On top of that, his defense was superb. He led the team with 1.7 steals, while the only other player to average more blocks per game was Jae Crowder at 1.2. The best game of the series for Adebayo was Game 6 when the Heat sealed their ticket to the NBA Finals with a 125-113 win with Adebayo recording 32 points and 14 rebounds.


2020-21 - Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks)

Khris Middleton 2021

Eastern Conference Finals: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Atlanta Hawks 4-2

Stats: 23.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 6.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.2 BPG

While one may look at Giannis Antetokounmpo here, you have to remember that he missed two games of the series due to an injury. It was Khris Middleton that stepped up in his absence. That included scoring 32 points to lead Milwaukee to a 118-107 win in Game 6 to send the Bucks to the NBA Finals for the first time since the days of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Middleton scored just 10 more points than Giannis to lead the team in total points. Had Giannis played the full series, this would be an easy decision. He averaged 26.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.0 blocks. Jrue Holiday averaged a double-double of 22.0 points and 10.0 assists. But you cannot discount the fact that Middleton led the team at a time when their MVP was not playing.


Magic Johnson Western Conference Finals MVP Award


2011-12 - Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Kevin Durant 2012

Western Conference Finals: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs 4-2

Stats: 29.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.5 BPG

The world had already known who Kevin Durant was by this time. He was the winner of the last three scoring titles. In the Conference Finals, he let the world know his name when he helped the Thunder overcome the championship pedigree of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and the three-time champions of the 2000s.

In the series, James Harden was the second-leading scorer at 18.5 points, but it was Durant who was dominant. After trailing 2-0 in the series, Durant led the Thunder to four straight wins. That included 22 points and 36 points in consecutive games to tie the series. He then scored 27 points to keep pace with 34 points from Manu Ginobili in Game 5. In the final game, Durant’s 34 points helped the team win 107-99 to make the NBA Finals.


2012-13 - Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs)

Tony Parker 2013

Western Conference Finals: San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies 4-0

Stats: 24.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 9.5 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG

When the Grizzlies made the Conference Finals, it was a nice story. However, the Spurs made it back and were more experienced and just flat-out better. While Duncan owned the history of being the most dominant player for the Spurs in the playoffs, it was Parker that outshines the rest of the Hall of Fame cast.

Parker led the Spurs in scoring in three of the four wins. That included 20 points in Game 1. He scored 26 points in a 104-93 win in Game 3 and then 37 points in a 93-86 win in Game 4. Parker was the only player for the spurs to average over 20 points per game and was just 0.5 assists per game from averaging a double-double.


2013-14 - Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs)

Tim Duncan 2014

Western Conference Finals: San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder 4-2

Stats: 17.8 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 2.2 APG, 0.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG

It was a rematch from the 2012 Conference Finals. With MVP Kevin Durant leading the Thunder, it looked like the team was poised to make another run to the Finals. With that said, it would have been upset with the No. 1 Spurs holding home-court advantage. The Spurs needed a complete team effort as either Durant or Russell Westbrook led all scorers in five of the six games.

The Spurs did not have a single-player average over 20 points per game in the Conference Finals. The one constant was Duncan, who led the team in scoring and rebounding. Duncan also shot 48.2% from the field and 87.1% from the free-throw line. The most eye-popping stat might have been that, despite playing at 37 years old, Duncan was one of two Spurs to play over 30 minutes per game.


2014-15 - Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)

Stephen Curry 2015

Western Conference Finals: Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets 4-1

Stats: 31.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 5.6 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.2 BPG)

James Harden was looking to make his first NBA Finals with his new team, the Rockets. Harden scored 38 points in Game 2 and 45 points in Game 4, but the Warriors ultimately came out on top at the end of the series. With MVP Stephen Curry leading the way, the Warriors won the series in five games.

Curry scored 34 points in a 110-106 win in Game 1. Then, he scored 40 points in a 115-80 win in Game 3, as well as 26 points in a 104-90 win in Game 5. Klay Thompson averaged 17.8 points per game, but Curry topped 30 points. He also shot 51.5% from the field and 49.1% from three-point range in 36.8 minutes of action per night.


2015-16 - Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)

Stephen Curry 2016

Western Conference Finals: Golden State Warriors vs. Oklahoma City Thunder 4-3

Stats: 27.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 5.9 APG, 2.1 SPG, 0.0 BPG

The Warriors won 73 games in the regular season but found themselves in a 3-1 hole after the first four games. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were playing like men on a mission. With that said, it was Curry that helped the Warriors fightback to win the series in seven games.

In Game 5, Curry scored 31 points to pace with Durant’s 40 points to help Golden State win. In Game 6, Curry’s 31 points were overshadowed by 11 threes by Klay Thompson en route to scoring 41 points. Thompson averaged 24.7 points per game for the series, but the difference-maker would be Game 7. Curry scored 36 points in a 96-88 win to help Golden State return to the NBA Finals.


2016-17 - Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)

Stephen Curry 2016-17

Western Conference Finals: Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs 4-0

Stats: 31.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 4.8 APG, 3.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG

Had Kawhi Leonard played the full series, this result might have been pushed to more games. Even so, the Warriors won the series easily in four games. Curry led the Warriors in three of the four wins. That included 40 points in a 113-111 Game 1 victory. He scored 29 points and 36 points in Game 2 and 4 victories.

Durant, playing in his first season with the Warriors, would have pushed Curry for the win. He averaged 28.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.8 blocks per game. He also shot 60.3% from the field, as well as 30.9% from three-point range and 87.1% from the free-throw line. However, Curry led the team in scoring three times, as well as shooting 56.4%/46.7%/89.5% from the field.


2017-18 - Kevin Durant (Golden State Warriors)

Kevin Durant 2017

Western Conference Finals: Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets 4-3

Stats: 30.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.7 APG, 0.3 SPG, 0.9 BPG

This was a battle of legacies on the line. James Harden was trying to play in his first Finals since playing with Durant. Curry and Durant were trying to make it back to the NBA Finals for the fourth year. Chris Paul was trying to make the NBA Finals. In the end, Durant and Curry were the better duo. While Curry averaged 25.0 points in the seven-game series, it was Durant who led the team in scoring and shot better from behind the arc than Curry.

Durant scored 37 points in Game 1, while Curry added 35 points in Game 3. After trailing 3-2 in the series, it was Klay Thompson that scored 35 points in Game 6. The difference-maker would have been Durant scoring 34 points in Game 7 to lead all scorers and help the team return to the NBA Finals.


2018-19 - Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)

Stephen Curry 2019

Western Conference Finals: Golden State Warriors vs. Portland Trail Blazers 4-0

Stats: 36.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 7.3 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.0 BPG

The Portland Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard made a deep playoff run only to be cut down swiftly by the super-squad of Golden State. The Warriors swept the Trail Blazers in four games where Curry led the team in scoring each time. Curry topped 30 points in all four games, never scoring less than 36 points in a game.

Curry started with 36 points in Game 1 and then scored 37 points to fend off the Trail Blazers 114-111 in Game 2. He then scored 36 points in Game 3 and then 37 points again in Game 4, which was a close 119-117 contest. While also scoring at a high rate, Curry nearly made the 50-40-90 club by shooting 46.9% from the field, 42.6% from deep, and 93.8% from the free-throw line.


2019-20 - LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers)

LeBron James 2020

Western Conference Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets 4-1

Stats: 27.0 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 9.0 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.8 BPG

With James healthy, he made his way back to the Conference Finals, but this time it was in the Western Conference. Anthony Davis led the team in scoring three of the four wins, but James nearly averaged a triple-double. While Davis led the team in scoring with 31.2 points, you can’t discount the fact that James had a significant impact in all of those games as well.

James led the team in rebounding and assists, as well as tied Alex Caruso for the most blocks per game. In the end, James scored 21 fewer points than Davis in the series, and still nearly averaged a triple-double. The Nuggets made a great run to allow Nikola Jokic to play in his first Conference Finals, but it was the mainstay in James that had the Lakers ready to win the series in five games.


2020-21 - Chris Paul (Phoenix Suns)

Chris Paul 2021

Western Conference Finals: Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Clippers 4-2

Stats: 24.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 8.8 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.0 BPG

When the series started, it looked like Devin Booker was going to be the frontrunner for this award. Booker led the team in scoring and rebounding with 40 points and 13 rebounds in Game 1. Booker also added 25 points in an 84-80 win in Game 4. For the series, Booker averaged 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.0 steals.

With that said, Paul averaged just as many points, shot three-percent better from the field than Booker, as well as nearly 10% better from three-point range. Paul also led the team in assists and steals, while saving his best performance for the last game of the series. The Suns were on the road in Los Angeles and pounded the Clippers 130-103 with 41 points coming from Paul to help the superstar make the first NBA Finals of his career.


LeBron And Stephen Would Have Owned These Awards

It would have been fitting that James and Curry were the most frequently named players, with Bird and Johnson owning naming rights. Bird was one of the best small forwards to play the game. With James playing the same position, it would have felt natural that James won an award in the Conference Finals, where he played nine of the last 10 years.

As for Curry, he would have matched the point guard position of Johnson, despite shooting like one we never seen before. Curry has never won a Finals MVP, but these awards would have helped aid his legacy as a top player in NBA history. Curry has a chance to sweep both awards if the Warriors can win their fourth title this year.

We could go back in history and look at other superstars as well. James would have won the award at least two more times, dating back to the earlier phase of his career. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant would have fought over the title in the Western Conference while playing for Johnson’s Lakers. The Pistons would have seen some of their players make a run for the award. Of course, we can’t forget about Michael Jordan likely winning most of the awards in the 90s. In the end, had this award been unveiled sooner, it would have forced James and Curry to create more room in their trophy case. 

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