The NBA Finals are set. For the fourth straight season, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers will face off for the NBA championship. But the path to the title was much different this season than in years past, with heroes and threats that challenged the two conference champs in ways that we hadn't seen.
In this third installment of our NBA playoff MVPs, let's again take a look at the players who did the most to help their teams advance throughout the entire course of the postseason.
1. LeBron James | F | Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron is still the King. He has put together a legendary playoff run to carry a team of struggling players to another NBA Finals.
LeBron leads the playoffs in everything, he's making buzzer-beaters left and right and the image of James scoring a layup with Marcus Morris trying to tackle him is a perfect visualization of him fighting through and carrying people on his back to get to the promised land.
2. James Harden | G | Houston Rockets
Harden is likely to be named the MVP of the NBA this year based on his regular-season brilliance. He wasn't quite as spectacular in the postseason, and his team's loss to the Warriors in the Western Conference finals indicates to some that he's not as transcendent as he should be.
Nevertheless, he was clearly the engine of the Rockets with the best numbers, and his playoff net rating was better than teammate Chris Paul's. Paul and Harden were both necessary for the Rockets to have a chance to advance, but Harden carried the bigger load of the two.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo | F | Milwaukee Bucks
Antetokounmpo's Bucks went out in the first round, but he played as well in that series as anyone not named LeBron has in these playoffs. In fact, he put up LeBron-light numbers to lead his overmatched team to seven games against the same Boston Celtics squad that required that absolute best of the King to squeeze by.
With his numbers and ability to maximize his impact as a point center, Antetokounmpo proved in these playoffs that he should be the next major storm to take the NBA.
4. Anthony Davis | F/C | New Orleans Pelicans
Davis put up brilliant numbers while helping lead the Pelicans past the higher-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, and he was still strong in their second-round loss to the juggernaut Warriors.
Teammates Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo and Nikola Mirotic also played very well in the postseason, with Holiday especially making his case as an impact star, but Davis was the man in New Orleans after DeMarcus Cousins went down, and his postseason excellence sets the stage for a potential MVP bid next season.
5. Draymond Green | F | Golden State Warriors
While each of the first four names on this list could garner serious consideration for leaguewide MVP, Green has the distinction of being the most valuable player of the best team in the league. While the Warriors have three players scoring more than 20 PPG in the postseason, Green's value far belies his 11.1 PPG average as he leads the squad in postseason rebounds (11.6 RPG), assists (8.1 APG), steals (1.9 APG) and blocks (1.5 BPG).
When Stephen Curry was out he improved his playmaking, when Andre Iguodala had to sit Green picked up his defense, and his versatility allowed the Dubs to sit most of their big-man rotation against the Rockets and still survive. Green is the defensive anchor, the vocal leader, the team's edge and the power generator of the four-time defending Western Conference champions.
6. Stephen Curry | G | Golden State Warriors
Curry makes his debut in this, the third installment of the list, after having missed the first six games of the playoffs with a knee injury. If Green is the gritty leader of the Warriors, then Curry is their explosive killer instinct.
Curry went through public questions about his cooler-than-usual jumper early in the conference finals, with some wondering if he was healthy and others questioning his ability to function with the Rockets going after him on both ends of the court. But the third-quarter explosions that define the dangerousness of the squad have Curry and his shimmy written all over them.
7. Chris Paul | G | Houston Rockets
Paul joined the Rockets this offseason with the goal of leading them past the Warriors, and he came close to accomplishing that feat. However, when Paul injured his hamstring late in Game 5, he essentially sealed his team's fate.
Harden is the Rockets' MVP, but he does it by exemplifying the Daryl Morey/Mike D'Antoni systems. Paul, on the other hand, was the security fail-safe for what happened when that system glitched. Paul's ability to run an offense amid chaos and create shots from the midrange was unique on the team, and without his leadership, toughness and feel, the Rockets were unable to hold on when the Warriors turned up the heat.
8. Kevin Durant | F | Golden State Warriors
Durant is Golden State's iso warrior. Much like Paul was the fail-safe for when the Rockets' way went wrong, Durant is the guy who the Dubs can go to when they need a bucket outside of their usual offense.
He's the team's leading scorer, and gives them a weapon that can match up with LeBron James one-on-one while the rest of the team destroys the rest of the Cavs.
9. Al Horford | F/C | Boston Celtics
Horford was the veteran leader and most consistent high performer for the Celtics in this postseason. He led them in all composite box score measurements as well as postseason impact as measured by net rating.
Horford's versatility, ability to play inside and out on both offense and defense and quiet leadership were hallmarks of a team that came within points of dethroning James despite the loss of their two best veteran players (Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward) before the postseason even began.
10. Jayson Tatum | F | Boston Celtics
Tatum makes his debut on this list as well, dethroning Terry Rozier as the second Celtic.
Tatum led the Celtics in scoring in the postseason, scoring inside and out, early and in the clutch, and setting himself up as an apparent franchise cornerstone in the very near future. As LeBron said after the game, when watching him this postseason it was clear that he has stardom written all over him.