Ranking the Best NBA Finals MVPs Since 2000

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2021

Ranking the Best NBA Finals MVPs Since 2000

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    Dwyane Wade
    Dwyane WadeDAVID J. PHILLIP/Associated Press

    Winning a single championship instantly puts NBA players in an exclusive club. However, the 2021 postseason will crown only the 32nd NBA Finals MVP in league history.

    During the last two decades, that number hasn't exactly been soaring. Five playersShaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonardhave hogged the spotlight, all winning multiple Finals MVPs.

    Nevertheless, a number of superstars have authored legendary performances in the championship round.

    To rank the best Finals MVPs since 2000, we've considered each player's total production and team impact with respect to the length of the series.

8. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors (2017)

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    In 2016, the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off a miracle comeback against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. The following year, Kevin Durant helped the Warriors get their revenge with a gentleman's sweep.

    In Game 1 of the series, Durant finished with 38 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. In Game 2, he racked up 33 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, five blocks and three steals.

    Tim Duncan (2003) is the only player with a comparable Finals stat line in the last two decades.

    After being routinely bashed for leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder the preceding summer, Durant quieted his critics in the Finals. He topped 30 points in all five matchups, including a personal-best 39 points to help the Warriors seal the title in Game 5.

    Durant would go on to repeat as Finals MVP in 2018.

7. Shaquille O'Neal, Los Angeles Lakers (2002)

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    MARK J. TERRILL/Associated Press

    In the last of his three straight Finals MVPs, Shaquille O'Neal helped his Los Angeles Lakers make quick work of the New Jersey Nets.

    The Big Diesel tallied 34-plus points and a double-double in each game of the four-game sweep. He scored 14 fourth-quarter points in a 99-94 Game 1 win, then flirted with a triple-double in Game 2 at 40 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. Plus, he hit a clutch last-minute jumper in the Lakers' 106-103 victory in Game 3.

    Most notably, O'Neal minimized the impact of the "Hack-A-Shaq" strategy by hitting 66.2 percent of his 17.0 free-throw attempts per game. New Jersey had no answer for him.

    Overall, he averaged 36.3 points on 59.5 percent shooting, 12.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.8 blocks.

6. LeBron James, Miami Heat (2013)

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Through the first three games of the 2013 NBA Finals, it didn't appear as though LeBron James was headed for an iconic performance. He was averaging only 16.7 points on 38.9 percent shooting against the San Antonio Spurs.

    Beginning in Game 4, he flipped the script.

    James went for 33 points and 11 rebounds, evening the series at two wins apiece. Following an inefficient 25 points on 8-of-22 shooting in Game 5, LeBron netted 32 in Game 6, including a pivotal three-pointer in regulation, to send the series to a Game 7. And on the biggest stage, The King overpowered the Spurs for 37 points and 12 rebounds.

    LeBron lifted his second straight Finals MVP trophy, sporting averages of 25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 2.3 steals.

5. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (2016)

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Aided by Kyrie Irving's big shot in Game 7, LeBron James finally brought a championship to his home state in 2016.

    Golden State cruised to a 3-1 advantage in the series, but Draymond Green's suspension opened the door for Cleveland. James took full advantage of Green's absence in Game 5, accumulating 41 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and three blocks.

    In Game 6, LeBron had another 41-point outing to go with 11 assists, four steals and three blocks. He closed out the series with an epic Game 7 performance, notching a triple-double with a chase-down block of Andre Iguodala that immediately became one of the most iconic moments in NBA history.

    LeBron tallied 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals and 2.3 blocks per game, winning his third Finals MVP.

4. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat (2006)

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    After the Dallas Mavericks won the first two games of the 2006 Finals, Dwyane Wade put the Miami Heat on his back.

    In Game 3, Wade keyed a 13-point fourth-quarter comeback that served as the turning point of the series. The third-year guard scored 15 of his 42 points in that final frame to help Miami avoid a 3-0 deficit, and his production soon turned the Heat into NBA champions.

    Wade followed up that brilliant night with 36 points in Game 4, netted 43including the game-winning free throw in overtimein Game 5, and scored 36 in Game 6.

    Since 2000, D-Wade ranks first with 75 made free throws and tied for third with 208 points in the series. Overall, he averaged 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.7 steals.

3. Shaquille O'Neal, Los Angeles Lakers (2001)

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    Although the Philadelphia 76ers took Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, Shaquille O'Neal made his presence felt. He racked up 44 points, 20 rebounds and five assists, which set the tone for the rest of the series.

    Two nights later, O'Neal nearly posted a quadruple-double with 28 points, 20 rebounds, nine assists and eight blocks. He never topped those assists or blocks marks in any career playoff game, regardless of round.

    Shaq posted 31.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 3.0 blocks in the final three games of the series.

    "This guy is as good as it gets," then-76ers coach Larry Brown said. "And I've never seen a better player in my life. I mean that."

2. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (2003)

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    The New Jersey Nets reached the NBA Finals in back-to-back seasons in the early 2000s, only to fall short in both years.

    After failing to contain Shaq in 2002, the Nets struggled to deal with Tim Duncan in 2003. San Antonio's star thrived on both ends of the court, averaging 24.2 points, 17.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 5.3 blocks during the six-game series.

    As if 32 points, 20 rebounds, seven blocks and six assists in Game 1 wasn't impressive enough, Duncan eyed a quadruple-double in the clinching Game 6. He fell two blocks shy of the feat, otherwise putting up 21 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists.

    No player in NBA history has swatted more shots in a single NBA Finals than Duncan, who turned aside 32 in 2003. Plus, he leads all players since 2000 with 102 rebounds.

1. Shaquille O'Neal, Los Angeles Lakers (2000)

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    The first of Shaq's three Finals MVPs stands out as the premier year.

    Even though he shot a horrendous 38.7 percent at the free-throw line during the 2000 Finals, the Indiana Pacers could not contain him. O'Neal opened the series with 43-point, 19-rebound performance that included a 21-of-31 shooting clip and hardly slowed down.

    In Game 2, he put up 40 points and 24 rebounds. Following a 33-point night in Game 3, he amassed 36 points and 21 rebounds in Game 4. Shaq then scored 35 and 31 points in Games 5 and 6, respectively.

    Since 2000, nobody has tallied more points (228) in a single NBA Finals than O'Neal. And only Duncan in 2003 grabbed more rebounds (102) than Shaq's 100.

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