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The Celtics vs. Warriors Finals are going to end with a number of our faves able to hang their hat on a major legacy builder. Yes, Golden State is playing to extend its dynasty for a fourth win in eight years, and yes, Boston is playing to take the shared throne from the L.A. Lakers for most-ever championship wins in a franchise’s history.
But a number of individuals on and off the court can prove something to others — and more importantly, themselves — with four more wins. (Note: a loss doesn’t diminish everything. Every player/coach/GM etc has been elite at their skill to reach this moment. But winning a title is a big, big deal.)
Let’s start with the obvious one. The people’s choice for a “Basketball Gods, Please Let Him Play Well,” wish come true. After consecutive seasons with a torn ACL and then torn Achilles, Thompson has had a lengthy, stressful recovery and it’s no surprise that, without him, Golden State’s struggled to get close to the height of its powers. A Finals win for Thompson would be a tremendous comeback story.
Finals MVP odds: +1500, bet $100 to win $1,500
One of the most doubted and shaded No. 1 picks in recent memory, Wiggins is now a crucial piece of a team on the verge of a title. Whether his success be a product of Steve Kerr’s system, Stephen Curry’s gravity, or his own hard work is beside the point. Andrew Wiggins’ talents are needed for Golden State to succeed. A year ago, that would’ve been a wild statement.
Finals MVP odds: +2500, bet $100 to win $2,500
We’re at the point where haters are literally only criticizing his lack of a Finals MVP. It’s that silly. Sure winning one would help his legacy, but more importantly, a fourth ring would bring him into super rare territory and command top-10 player of all-time discussion.
Finals MVP odds: +110, bet $100 to win $110
Gary Payton II
An undrafted player turned G League champion turned NBA starter. If Payton is able to return to this series just a month after fracturing his elbow on a flagrant 2-worthy cheap-shot from Dillon Brooks and win… sheesh.
Finals MVP odds: +10000, bet $100 to win $10,000
He’s already been deemed a two-way player and one of the games’ best by Draymond Green, and now he has a chance to attract mainstream attention as such — if he hasn’t already. Tatum’s had an impressive season amped up by his growth on the defensive side. To lead his team to the Finals at age 24 is already an achievement in itself.
Finals MVP odds: +170, bet $100 to win $170
Horford was shipped away from the Sixers just two years ago because of an ill-fit next to Joel Embiid, and cast away to a Thunder team so determined to tank that they let him essentially take the season off. At that point, it was fair to question Horford’s future in the league. Today, for the first time in his career, he’s in the NBA Finals.
Finals MVP odds: +9000, bet $100 to win $9,000
While Stevens the coach underachieved, Stevens the GM is here in the big moment. Though it was unpopular at the time, his massive move in trading away Kemba Walker last offseason to put his other stars in their more natural positions was a big turning point. As was the decision to bring in Derrick White midseason. His influence is felt.
The first-time head coach could become the 10th-ever to win a ring in his first season, and he’s doing so with a team he turned around from a .500 25-25 record in January. Much like his opponent, Steve Kerr, Udoka has taken a team from good to great from the jump. Teams that passed on him have to be kicking themselves.