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NBA Small Forwards Who Won The Finals MVP Award: LeBron James Has Won 4, Larry Bird Won 2

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NBA Small Forwards Who Won The Finals MVP Award: LeBron James Has Won 4, Larry Bird Won 2

Winning an NBA Championship is possibly the greatest achievement in the world for an NBA player. After all, it is the eternal goal of every athlete who comes into the league wanting to make a name for themselves. It is also the most difficult task to accomplish because the path to the title is a long and exhausting one. It takes something special to be a champion, and only one team out of thirty gets to experience this every single year. What is equally as impressive, on an individual level, is the stand-out player during a Finals series where a Finals MVP is crowned. Since the 1969 Finals, we have seen a Finals MVP every year.

Very few players have managed to achieve this incredible feat, and it is time to list all the Finals MVP winners per position. By the end of the article, one position might stand out because 9 out of the last 10 Finals MVPs have been natural small forwards. Small forwards have proven to be the most effective players in the game, mainly because of their size and skill sets. A superstar small forward is large enough to have a physical impact on the game while remaining mobile enough to handle the ball, score, and play defense. That is why 10 small forwards have been Finals MVPs, starting with John Havlicek and ending with LeBron James, who won the 2020 championship in the “bubble”.

Looking back at the very start of the NBA until the 2022 season, here are the Finals MVP winners at the small position. Only one name will appear more than once, and some other players managed to take their teams to an entirely different level by dominating the court during the NBA Finals in a particular year. Without further ado, here is every Finals MVP award winner at the small forward spot in NBA history.

1973-74 Finals MVP - John Havlicek

Finals Statistics: 26.4 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.0 BPG

In the 1974 season and 1974 NBA Finals, John Havlicek became the first small forward in NBA history to win the NBA Finals MVP. While playing for the Boston Celtics, Havlicek won the award to add a critical accolade to his Hall of Fame resume, which eventually included 8 NBA titles, 13 All-Star selections, and 11 All-NBA selections by his retirement.

The Celtics legend captured his Finals MVP in 1974 by putting up 26.4 PPG to overcome 32.6 PPG by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Bucks. It took 7 games before the Celtics managed to overcome the Bucks, and a 16-point, 9-rebound performance from Havlicek in Game 7 was enough to close the deal and earn the small forward an NBA title and his first Finals MVP award.

Known as “Hendo”, the player also had plenty of help from Dave Cowens (22.7 PPG, 9.9 RPG) and Jo Jo White (16.6 PPG, 7.0 APG), and they managed to create enough scoring opportunities together to overcome the Lakers. But as great as Cowens and White were, Havlicek owned the series, and he solidified himself as one of the greatest small forwards ever with his performance at age 33.

1974-75 Finals MVP - Rick Barry

Finals Statistics: 29.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 5.0 APG, 3.5 SPG, 0.8 BPG

Next season, Rick Barry captured the Finals MVP averaging 29.5 PPG, to lead the Golden State Warriors over the Washington Bullets in a sweep. The superstar small forward was far and away the best player in the series, averaging 44.4% shooting from the field and 93.8% from the free-throw line. Barry also scored the most points in the series, as he was the only one to put up at least 100 points in the series.

Rick Barry also led his team in assists and steals while only missing 2 out of his 32 free-throw attempts in the entire Finals series. On the other end, Barry managed to outplay Phil Chenier (23.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.8 APG), Elvin Hayes (20.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG), and Kevin Porter (15.5 PPG, 6.8 APG) en route to a tremendous showing by the player. Interestingly, Barry’s best teammate was Jamaal Wilkes, who only averaged 11.5 PPG and 9.8 RPG.

The Warriors’ star played the most minutes on his team, posting 43.0 MPG, and thanks to his efficiency as a scorer and the biggest threat on the floor for the SuperSonics as a playmaker as well, he became the first player in his position who won the coveted Finals MVP award.

It took 6 years before another small forward would win the Finals MVP award after Barry did it in 1969, and it would be a Boston Celtics player, rather unsurprisingly.

1980-81 Finals MVP - Cedric Maxwell

Finals Statistics: 17.7 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 2.8 APG, 0.2 SPG, 1.0 BPG

Cedric Maxwell’s Finals MVP award at the end of the 1981 season was one of the most unexpected endings of the year. Locked in a battle with the talented Houston Rockets team led by Moses Malone, Larry Bird was expected to be the driving force (and Finals MVP) for a Celtics team that was still considered the favorite at the time. Unfortunately for the Houston Rockets, they did not have enough to counter what Cedric Maxwell, Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Nate Archibald were doing on the court together.

But in the end, it was up to Maxwell, the only player on his team to average at least 16 PPG, to overcome the Finals MVP odds and get the job done for his side. Of course, he would accomplish that with a terrific Finals performance. Maxwell dropped 17.7 PPG, 9.5 RPG, and 1.0 BPG on an incredible 56.8% field goal shooting. The forward constantly came through for the Celtics, even outplaying his superstar teammate, Larry Bird (15.3 PPG, 15.3 RPG).

Thanks to “Cornbread’s” efficiency and leadership, the Celtics managed to overcome a rampant Moses Malone to win the title and Finals MVP. For some reason, critics of Larry Bird normally point to this series as a means of taking away what the player did during the Finals, but he deserves credit for allowing Maxwell to play the series of his life and earn his most amazing individual accolade.

1983-84 Finals MVP - Larry Bird

Finals Statistics: 27.4 PPG, 14.0 RPG, 3.6 APG, 2.1 SPG, 1.1 BPG

In one of the greatest seasons ever by a player, Larry Bird was sensational as the Boston Celtics would reach the NBA Finals with their superstar forward leading the way in a showdown against the rival Los Angeles Lakers. With fans glued to the screen, the Celtics and Lakers series went to 7 games, with Bird and Magic Johnson putting up superstar performances. Both rosters were stacked, with Dennis Johnson, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish joining Bird on the Celtics. The Lakers were led by their own group of stars in Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy.

Even though Kareem Abdul-Jabbar averaged 26.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG, and 4.4 APG, he could not usurp Boston's elite team play spearheaded by Bird. Larry Legend captured the Finals MVP for playing some of the best basketball in Finals history by averaging 27.4 PPG and 14.0 RPG on 48.4% from the field and 66.7% from three. The series was back and forth from the start, as the Lakers would take Game 1 and Game 3 in convincing fashion, with the latter ending in a 33-point blowout win.

Not to be outdone, the Celtics would take Game 2, Game 4, and a pivotal Game 5, where Larry Bird dropped game-highs 34 points and 17 rebounds. Larry chipped in 20 points and 12 rebounds in Game 7, ending the Lakers in a spectacular series. For his efforts, Bird captured his first Finals MVP award to add to the MVP award he won in the regular season. No doubt about it, the 1984 Finals have to be a very shining moment for the Celtics legend.

1985-86 Finals MVP - Larry Bird

Finals Statistics: 24.0 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 9.5 APG, 2.7 SPG, 0.3 BPG

In the 1986 season, Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics took on the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals for a rematch showdown from the 1981 Finals. The Rockets were led by superstar center Hakeem Olajuwon, while Boston took them on with a stacked roster featuring Bird, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, and Danny Ainge. The Celtics were heavily favored due to their All-Star talent and experience, and as expected, the series ended in 6 games.

Bird captured his second Finals MVP award by leading his team in rebounds, assists, steals, and free-throw percentage. Showcasing his unbelievable all-around game and efficiency (48.2% FG, 36.8% 3-PT FG, 93.9% FT), Bird was the undisputed king of the court. The Rockets tried to make it a series by winning Games 3 and 5, but only Hakeem Olajuwon (24.7 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 2.3 SPG, 3.2 BPG) was an actual threat of taking over games.

To make sure the result went the Celtics’ way, Larry Bird got very little rest during the six-game series, competing in 269 out of a possible 288 minutes of floor time. Anytime a player plays that many minutes and puts up a near triple-double, it will be certain that he will be named the Finals MVP for that year. The 1986 season marked the Celtics' 16th championship in 40 years, and it would actually be their last championship for 22 years until the 2008 season when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce.

1987-88 Finals MVP - James Worthy

Finals Statistics: 22.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 4.4 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.6 BPG

A lot was expected from the Los Angeles Lakers in 1988 because head coach Pat Riley essentially promised fans a repeat championship. It is certainly easy to feel confident when a roster has the likes of Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In a Finals showdown against the soon-to-be called “Bad Boy” Pistons, it was Worthy who would have key performances in the series to earn the victory for his side. Despite the best efforts of Adrian Dantley (21.3 PPG and 5.0 RPG) and Isiah Thomas (19.7 PPG and 9.0 APG), the Pistons could not keep up with an extremely talented Lakers roster, losing a pivotal Game 7.

Worthy averaged a team-high 22.0 PPG on 49.2% shooting over the 7 games, leading his team on both ends of the floor. With Kareem at the age of 40, Worthy needed to step it up a notch which is why he is known as “Big Game” James. Possibly the most impressive moment in the series actually came from Isiah Thomas because he injured his ankle badly in Game 6, only to score 25 points in the third quarter alone. Somehow, the Lakers won the game and tied the series 3-3 to force a Game 7.

The defining performance from Finals MVP James Worthy came in Game 7 when he dropped a game-high 36 points and 16 rebounds in his greatest performance yet. The swingman was not going to let the Lakers lose Game 7 and gifted Kareem Abdul-Jabbar his 6th and final championship. Big Game James Worthy was the star of the game, with Thomas clearly hobbled by his ankle injury.

2007-08 Finals MVP - Paul Pierce

Finals Statistics: 21.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.3 BPG

In a Finals matchup that has been consistent throughout NBA history, the two most accomplished franchises, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, met in the 2008 Finals. The Lakers accomplished one of the greatest deals in NBA history when they acquired Pau Gasol for a package of expendable parts. With Gasol joining Kobe Bryant, the Western Conference favorites were set. But so was the Eastern Conference.

But Boston also made major moves, bringing in superstar Kevin Garnett and All-Star shooting guard Ray Allen to join their own All-Star in Paul Pierce. That trio was definitely dominant on the court, and it was already a foregone conclusion that Boston would meet Los Angeles in the Finals. It happened, but Boston made quick work of the Lakers, who were simply outmatched on both ends of the court.

Pierce won Finals MVP, coming through for the Celtics in multiple clutch moments and leading his team in scoring against the Lakers. Pierce averaged 21.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 6.3 APG while shooting 43.2% FG, 39.2% 3-PT FG, and 83.0% from the free-throw line. We also got to witness the infamous “wheelchair incident”, whereby Pierce changed the series by pausing a Los Angeles Lakers run in Game 1 and returned to finish the contest.

2011-12 Finals MVP - LeBron James

Finals Statistics: 28.6 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.4 BPG

For the first time in his career, LeBron James got over the hump to win the NBA championship and Finals MVP award with the Miami Heat after also winning the regular-season MVP. The superstar forward averaged 28.6 PPG and 10.2 RPG in the series, once again taking over the series by outscoring the likes of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Averaging 28.6 PPG on 47.2% shooting and chipping in 7.4 APG, no player was as dominant as the legendary small forward.

All eyes and all the pressure were on The King to make the difference in the Finals because LeBron had the worst playoff series of his career in the 2011 Finals. A year prior, James was outscored by both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on his team as he let the pressure and expectations get to him. This time, however, James showed up and completely owned the immature Oklahoma City Thunder. Competing against a young and talented Kevin Durant, James put up all-around superstar numbers as Miami won in 5 games despite dropping Game 1.

The King was a man on a mission, and he proved to all his doubters that he was indeed the best player in the world, and it would be a matter of time before he would assume his position on the throne because he would make a couple more Finals appearances as a member of the Miami Heat. But finally, LeBron was a champion, and he would go on to build on that to eventually become a top-5 player of all time with ease.

2012-13 Finals MVP - LeBron James

Finals Statistics: 25.3 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 7.0 APG, 2.3 SPG, 0.9 BPG

For the second-straight year, LeBron James and the Miami Heat won the NBA title, with their superstar small forward earning the Finals MVP award. This was also the third straight year when the Heat made it to the Finals, an incredible achievement. The King was once again elite across all facets of the game, but it was his fantastic Game 7 performance when he dropped 37 points on mainly jump shots that stood out among every other game.

The Spurs backed off James and forced him to shoot jumpers, and The King answered time and time again. Famously, King James embraced the “heel” role in his second season with the Heat, and he continued that mentality in the third season as the Heat competed in a showdown with the consistent San Antonio Spurs core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. As expected, the series went to 7 games as each team split a game throughout the matchup.

But James made the biggest difference in the series. The former Cavaliers star led all players in points, assists, and win shares in the series. The King was still on another level in 2013, and at the prime age of 28, he was still extremely explosive and simply unguardable. With James playing at a superstar level, opponents began to accept that they were just living in The King’s world at that moment in time.

2013-14 Finals MVP - Kawhi Leonard

Finals Statistics: 17.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.2 BPG

For the fourth straight year, the Miami Heat would reach the NBA Finals with their Big Three leading the way. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh were still All-Star-caliber players with elite skill sets, and the Heat were the favorites for the fourth straight year entering the Finals. This time, they faced a rematch with the Spurs side that was beaten the year before. All season long, fans were excited at the possibility of a rematch because Ray Allen’s shot in 2013 still stung.

Even though LeBron James averaged 28.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 4.0 APG, and Dwyane Wade chipped in 15.2 PPG; the Heat could not usurp San Antonio’s elite team play. Kawhi Leonard, at age 22, captured Finals MVP for playing some of the best defense in Finals history on LeBron while also chipping in 17.8 PP and 6.4 RPG. The young forward began showing signs of elite wing play, and superstardom would be on the horizon because he was learning from the best.

Leonard certainly benefitted from the brilliance of Duncan, Parker, and Manu Ginobili while also taking advantage of the confidence of Gregg Popovich. The forward picked his spots tremendously well, shooting 61.2% from the field, 57.9% from three, and 78.3% from the stripe. Thanks to his defense and efficiency, Kawhi ran away with Finals MVP honors along with his first NBA title. This was his first of two Finals MVP awards, as his second would only come just a few years later.

2014-15 Finals MVP - Andre Iguodala

Finals Statistics: 16.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG

The 2015 Finals was the first time we saw just how dominant the Golden State Warriors truly were, mainly because we got to witness them handle LeBron James, who almost got the job done against them without the presence of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. James averaged 35.8 PPG, 13.3 RPG, and 8.8 APG in a losing effort, and the result was greatly influenced by swingman and 1-time All-Star Andre Iguodala.

It was Andre Iguodala’s defense that ultimately made the difference, even if it does not look like it from LeBron’s stat line. The talented two-way perimeter star had big moments throughout the series on both ends of the floor, coming up big in critical situations to help the Warriors win the Finals in 6 games. Mainly as a power forward in an iconic “Death Lineup”, Iggy was a strong contributor on the floor in multiple ways.

There is no question that Stephen Curry was the best player on the Warriors on the offensive end (26.0 PPG), but it was Andre Iguodala that came up the biggest in crunch time on both ends of the floor. The former All-Star small forward was forced to defend multiple positions, cover The King throughout the series, and help form the infamous “Death Lineup” that was almost unguardable. Critics might still argue for Steph as the 2015 Finals MVP, but Iguodala should be proud of his most impressive individual achievement.

2015-16 Finals MVP - LeBron James

Finals Statistics: 29.7 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 8.9 APG, 2.6 SPG, 2.3 BPG

In the 2016 NBA Finals, LeBron James averaged 29.7 PPG and 11.3 RPG on 49.4%, shooting from the field in one of the greatest Finals comebacks in NBA history, if not the greatest performance we had ever seen. Despite being down 3-1, James placed the Cavaliers on his back to the point where his point guard, Kyrie Irving, was able to hit the biggest shot in the series in Game 7. LeBron put up monster numbers throughout the stat sheet on both ends of the floor and had some iconic moments in the Finals, including “The Block” that captivated fans in the stadium and at home.

James was simply unguardable in the series, and his numbers are a testament to what he had to do to win his 3rd championship. He had plenty of help in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but the Warriors were simply the better team all year long, thanks to the brilliance of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green under head coach Steve Kerr. But James turned it up to another level that we have not seen before and did the unthinkable on both ends of the floor over 7 long games.

The King’s 2016 Finals series might be his greatest collection of performances in the playoffs because, for the first time since the 2007 Finals, he was not the overwhelming favorite and had to face undeniable adversity. James got the job done and earned his third Finals MVP award, which sits pretty alongside his other Hall of Fame-worthy achievements.

2016-17 Finals MVP - Kevin Durant

Finals Statistics: 35.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.6 BPG

Kevin Durant was sensational in his second Finals appearance, and he thoroughly deserved the Finals MVP award in 2017. Sure, his decision to join a 73-9 Golden State Warriors team in free agency put a massive target on his back, and we had never seen a move like this before. Instead of trying to win on his own, KD stacked the deck in his favor. All he had to do was perform well, and he certainly did.

KD went head-to-head with LeBron James, averaging 35.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 5.4 APG, and 1.6 BPG, to The King’s averages of 33.6 PPG, 12.0 RPG, and 10.0 APG. To many, Durant outplayed LeBron James because he came up with countless big buckets and ended his opponent’s run in only 5 games. Durant’s team was favored, but LeBron’s side was also stacked with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on board.

In the end, Durant proved his move to Golden State was the right one because he managed to win his first NBA championship and captured his first Finals MVP award. A superstar of Durant’s caliber should never have to join an established contender to win championships, but the small forward went against the grain, and he sits today as an NBA champion because of it.

2017-18 Finals MVP - Kevin Durant

Finals Statistics: 28.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 7.5 APG, 0.8 SPG, 2.3 BPG

Kevin Durant’s second straight championship in 2018 resulted in him earning his second Finals MVP with the Warriors. KD averaged 28.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 7.5 APG, and 2.3 BPG while leading Golden State to a Game 4 sweep over LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. Obviously, Durant was playing on a stacked team, and that was clear because Stephen Curry averaged 27.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 6.8 APG, and Klay Thompson chipped in 16.0 PPG. The fourth option Draymond Green also put up 9.3 PPG and 8.5 APG.

Fans were critical of Durant’s decision to join Golden State a year prior, but there is no doubt he showed up and took the game to LeBron James. For years, KD was finishing in second place to The King and needed a superteam to overcome his ultimate rival. No question, Durant was the best player in the 2018 NBA Finals in terms of numbers and impact. The 4-time scoring champion was the most consistent performer on the court in the 2018 Finals as he led his team in scoring, unsurprisingly.

With his second championship and second Finals MVP in his hands, Durant convinced a ton of people that his decision to join Golden State was the right move. Had he remained in Oklahoma City alongside Russell Westbrook, Durant would still be ringless and have the weight of the NBA world on his back for failing to deliver.

2018-19 Finals MVP - Kawhi Leonard

Finals Statistics: 28.5 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2.0 SPG, 1.2 BPG

Kawhi Leonard’s second championship in 2019 resulted in him earning his second Finals MVP as a member of the Toronto Raptors. Kawhi averaged 28.5 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, and 2.0 SPG while leading Toronto to a Game 6 victory over the Golden State Warriors side that was missing key contributors, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. But the Raptors got the job done, and thanks to Leonard’s elite play throughout the playoffs, they were placed in a position to succeed.

Kawhi led his team in points with 171, only 12 behind Stephen Curry, who led all players with 183 total points. He also led the Raptors in rebounds and finished 2nd in assists behind Kyle Lowry. Overall, it was a complete performance by one of the most complete players in the NBA right now. He certainly deserved to be placed in a position to succeed because he had continuously improved in all areas of the floor to become a championship-caliber player.

Leonard was the most consistent performer on the court in the 2019 Finals as he led all players in scoring, unsurprisingly. The Claw would not be denied his 2nd NBA championship, and no matter what people might have to say about his luck regarding the opposing team’s injuries, it was not out of the question that Toronto would have won anyway. The former San Antonio Spurs superstar proved he is one of the all-time greats at his position, as he won with his second franchise after forcing his way out of San Antonio.

2019-20 Finals MVP - LeBron James

Finals Statistics: 29.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 8.5 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.5 BPG

LeBron James’ fourth championship in 2020 resulted in him earning his fourth Finals MVP award, this time coming with the Lakers. James averaged 29.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 8.5 APG, and 1.2 SPG while leading Los Angeles to a Game 6 victory over the Miami Heat led by Jimmy Butler, who did not have the help from his second and third-best players, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic. To give credit where it is due, LeBron had strong help from the second-best player on his team Anthony Davis (25.0 PPG, 10.7 RPG). Davis posted 19 points and 15 rebounds in the close-out Game 6.

LeBron led all players in scoring in the Finals series, posting a total of 179 points which was ahead of Jimmy Butler (157 points) and Anthony Davis (150 points) to solidify his legacy as the greatest small forward of all time with only Larry Bird the closest comparison. LeBron was the most consistent performer on the court in the 2020 Finals as he led all players in scoring and rebounds, unsurprisingly. The King would not be denied his 4th NBA championship, and no small forward has come close to replicating James’ dominance in the Finals since he started winning NBA titles. It is clear that dominant small forwards are the key to success in the grandest stage of them all, and that could be the norm going forward as well. 


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