2022 NBA Finals: Warriors vs. Celtics

NBA Finals MVP Ladder: Stephen Curry remains at top as Game 6 nears

Storylines and tension abound in these Finals with Golden State on the cusp of another championship.

Stephen Curry leads the way in the Finals MVP race despite a lackluster performance in Game 5.

• Complete coverage: 2022 NBA Finals

BOSTON — Real or perceived, the legend of “Game 6 Klay” looms large as a potential plotline now that we’ve reached that critical juncture in the 2022 NBA Finals with Boston set to host Golden State on Thursday (9 ET, ABC) trailing this series 3-2.

In 12 career Game 6 showings, Klay Thompson averages 20.7 points per game on 49.5% from 3-point range, according to StatMuse.

The shooting guard birthed the reputation with a 41-point outburst that included 11 3-pointers in Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, only to bolster it in subsequent penultimate contests of series with 27 points in the 2019 West finals and 30 in the NBA Finals the same year. Thompson further cemented that standing over the last two rounds of the 2022 postseason against the Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks with 30 points or more in each of his last two Game 6 appearances.

“That obviously became this narrative,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said last month on his podcast. “Klay really believes that now. In his head, he’s like, ‘Of course, it’s Game 6. Of course, I’m gonna do this.’ He approaches the game like that. It shows you how powerful the mind is.”

With the series back in the Bay for Game 5, Andrew Wiggins seizes the moment with 26 points, 13 boards, stifling defense and a 4th-quarter takeover.

Desperation ranks heavily as a motivational force, too. That’s likely what the Celtics feel on the brink of elimination after staving it off in seven games over each of the last two series against the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat to reach this point. Boston owns a record of 6-2 since the 2017 postseason in series that reach Game 6. On the flip side, the Celtics are 2-6 in Game 6s over that same span.

“My faith is higher than it’s ever been before,” Boston guard Jaylen Brown said. “So, I’m looking forward to Game 6.”

As he should since this contest presents yet another opportunity to build on the story of the 2022 NBA Finals.

We marveled at the Al Horford show in Game 1, followed by a virtuoso performance in Game 4 from Stephen Curry. Those contests built up to the latest, a Game 5 tale of redemption from Andrew Wiggins (widely deemed a disappointment as the top overall pick in 2014) on a night Curry failed to conjure his usual luminosity from 3-point range.

Wiggins’ strong showing lands him at No. 2 on the 2022 Race to the NBA Finals MVP Ladder, and while Curry remains the favorite to walk away with the Bill Russell Award (he won’t finish 0-for-9 again from 3-point range in Game 6), we can’t help but ponder what’s next in this gritty series chockful of weighty storylines.

And now, the Top 5 in our 2022 Race to the NBA Finals MVP Ladder after Game 3:

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

NBA Finals stats: 30.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.6 apg

Stephen Curry had a Game 5 to forget in many ways. Come Game 6, he should be ready to get back to his usual 3-point shooting self.

One aspect of Curry we don’t discuss enough is how his veteran leadership and stellar play often inspire others to step up in times of need. That’s precisely what we saw in Game 5 coming off Curry’s otherworldly Game 4 performance. Curry struggled to hit the 3-pointer all game (going 0-for-9 on them), but contributed in other ways with assists (eight) and drives, as the rest of the Warriors picked up the slack beyond the arc, most notably Klay Thompson (5-for-11 from 3-point range). Without setting a strong example for teammates to follow, Curry isn’t walking off that floor victorious Monday grinning through the satisfaction associated with achieving a total team win. Curry also moved into 10th all-time for assists (196) in the NBA Finals.

2. Andrew Wiggins, Golden State Warriors

NBA Finals stats: 18.4 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.6 apg

Take a closer look at Andrew Wiggins' stellar performance in Game 5 as he shines on both ends of the floor for Golden State.

We made sure to recognize the 27-year-old’s career-high rebounding night (16 boards) as one of the catalysts for Golden State’s Game 4 triumph. That effort pushed Wiggins into the fifth spot in the Race to the Finals MVP Ladder, but he wouldn’t stay long before jumping three more positions after Game 5. Wiggins provided the scoring punch needed as Curry struggled, racking up a team-high 26 points, in addition to contributing 13 rebounds and two assists, not to mention lockdown defense all series against Boston star Jayson Tatum. We’ve seen Curry’s lullaby 3-pointers. Well, Wiggins said night-night with a dunk late in the game that capped a night full of strong finishes.

3. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

NBA Finals stats: 18.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.0 apg

After knocking down five 3s in Game 5, Klay Thompson climbs to 2nd all time in Finals 3-pointers with 104.

The legend of “Game 6 Klay” never grows old, but surely Warriors fans will gladly take Game 5 Klay, too. That’s who showed up and accounted for most of the team’s 3-point shooting with Curry toiling to find his groove. Thompson scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half and passed LeBron James to move into second place behind Curry on the all-time list for 3-pointers made (102) in NBA Finals history. Game 5 marked the 32-year-old’s eighth 20-point outing game in the 2022 playoffs, as Thompson knocked down corner 3-pointers as he grinded to get through sheer grit. The shooting guard also nabbed two of Golden State’s nine Game 5 steals.

4. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

NBA Finals stats: 23.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 7.0 apg

Jayson Tatum came through with 27 points in Boston's Game 5 loss.

Nobody’s calling it a signature performance, but Tatum’s Game 5 is probably the best we’ve seen from the superstar thus far in this series. The forward scored a game-high 27 points — including 13 in the first half — and nailed back-to-back 3-pointers, followed later with another during a furious third-quarter Celtics run in which they drilled an NBA Finals-record eight consecutive 3-pointers. Still, turnovers remain a major issue for him. He’s had 95 in the postseason, which is the most ever since 1977-78 (when that statistic was first tracked). With Wiggins taking the bulk of the responsibility of guarding Tatum, the 24-year-old is shooting 5-for-21 in the fourth quarter of the Finals.

5. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics

NBA Finals stats: 21.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.8 apg

Poor offensive execution doomed the Celtics in Game 5. Will they remedy that for Game 6?

Three became the operative number for Brown in Game 5, as the wing put together his third postseason outing with five or more turnovers in addition to shooting worse than 30% for the third time in these playoffs. A 2-for-11 start didn’t help matters. Boston had 18 turnovers in Game 5, resulting in 22 points for Golden State as the Celtics fell to 1-7 this postseason when they commit 16 or more turnovers. (When they surrender 15 or fewer, they’re 13-2.) Brown, Tatum, and Marcus Smart combined for 13 of Boston’s turnovers as the Celtics dropped back-to-back contests for the first time since late March.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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