Plenty of star power remains at point guard in NBA playoffs
MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James is fond of saying that today’s NBA is driven by point guards.
Looks like he’s right.
A superstar foursome of All-Star point guards are left in the NBA playoffs. In the Eastern Conference finals, starting Tuesday, it’s Toronto’s Kyle Lowry versus Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving. Out in the Western Conference finals, which started Monday night, it’s Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook versus Golden State’s Stephen Curry.
And in about a month, one of them will be holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy in a championship celebration.
“It’s no surprise at all,” said James, the Cleveland star looking for his sixth consecutive trip to the Finals. “It’s arguably, probably, the four best point guards we have in our league, obviously missing, outside of, Chris Paul. Lowry, Steph, Russ and Ky — I’ll take those four guys.”
An average night so far this season for Lowry, Irving, Westbrook and Curry: 23.9 points, 7.3 assists. They’ve combined for 94 double-doubles and 21 triple-doubles (18 of those from Westbrook alone). And the Warriors are 75-9 when Curry plays, the Cavaliers are 45-16 when Irving plays, the Raptors are 62-29 with Lowry and the Thunder are 64-28 with Westbrook — who helped Oklahoma City steal Game 1 from Golden State on Monday — in the lineup.
Add up those records, and those four point guards are leading teams to wins in exactly three out of every four games they play this season.
“It’s a perfect match of what I’ve been saying,” James said.
Lowry led Toronto into its first East finals by leading the Raptors past Miami in a seven-game semifinal slugfest. He had a total of 25 points in the first two games of that series, then went off for 139 in the final five contests.
Irving is 18-3 as a starter in the postseason, 8-0 so far this year for the steamrolling Cavaliers. Westbrook might be the fastest and most explosive point guard, a matchup nightmare who helped engineer the Thunder’s ouster of San Antonio. And Curry is only the two-time reigning MVP, the game’s most prolific shooter who connected on a record-by-a-mile 402 3′s this season and is seeking a second straight NBA title.
“He’s redefining how this game is being played right now, not only league-wide but at the youth level,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said of Curry after the unanimous MVP vote was revealed earlier this month. “It’s so much different now, the way he plays, than when any of us were growing up. ... The passing and all of that, I think that’s his greatness — the impact of change that he’s making on the game. It’s exciting for the game.”
This lineup of point guards takes Raptors coach Dwane Casey back a generation, when it seemed to him like a John Stockton or Magic Johnson or Kevin Johnson would find their way into just about every big game.
“It’s fun to see. I think it’s great for the league to have guys like Kyle and Kyrie and Westbrook and those guys performing at such a high level,” Casey said Monday. “Your team is as good as your point guard is. Not just scoring, but the way he leads your team, the way he sets the tone defensively, the way he runs the show offensively. It’s fun to see the way the game is being dictated by the great point guards that are left in the final four.”
It bears noting that none of those point guards, as great as they are, have had to go it alone in these playoffs. They’ve all got All-Star, superstar-caliber teammates — DeMar DeRozan in Toronto, James and Kevin Love in Cleveland, Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green alongside Curry in Golden State.
What they also have are coaches who know exactly what a point guard is supposed to be doing.
Casey was a point guard at Kentucky. Thunder coach Billy Donovan went to the Final Four — the college version, that is — as a point guard for Rick Pitino at Providence. Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue played point in the NBA, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr was best known for his shooting ability but also was a proven ballhandler on his way to being part of five championship teams as a player.
“More guards go into coaching, it seems like, and get opportunities as head coaches,” former NBA coach and current ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said Monday. “Other than that, I can’t really explain it. But great players like Curry and Westbrook and Lowry and Kyrie Irving, they help you coach well, I’ll tell you that.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland and AP freelance writer Ian Harrison in Toronto contributed to this report.