Everyone is so used to the Finals MVP dominating the entire series. Like LeBron James leading the team in almost every statistical category or Kevin Durant being basically unstoppable when he’s looking to score. But that wasn’t the case back in 1978 when Wes Unseld won his Finals MVP.
Unseld has been to the Finals before. But he suffered bitter losses via sweep in 1971 and 1975. He had another shot at an NBA Championship in 1978 against the Seattle Supersonics.
One would think that since it his third chance at a championship, Unseld would go HAM. He’d just outright try to dominate the Sonics every chance he got. But that wasn’t the case. Unseld played under control the entire time, making sure he made the right play for his team. The big names for the Bullets in the series were Bobby Dandridge and Elvin Hayes. Those two dominated the box score with big scoring numbers.
What Unseld did was focus on the little things. Making a pinpoint outlet pass to kickstart the fast break attack of his team. He set bone-crushing picks to open up lanes for Dandridge or Hayes to score. He planted himself in the paint and challenged every player that tried to score inside.
Unseld was the tito that steps into the game in the village courts. He didn’t look physically imposing or impressive. But once the game started, he was a dynamo that was everywhere on court. He used his veteran guile and command of the game to lead his team. That tito changed the complexion of the game.
The series was a back-and-forth affair that eventually headed into a Game 7. Unseld was the one who sealed the win for the Bullets. A career 55% shooter from the line, he sank two free throws in the end game to win Washington’s first sports championship.
He only averaged 9.0 points and 11.7 rebounds, far from the dominant Finals MVP stats everyone is used to these days. What didn’t appear on the stat sheet were all the little things, the screens, hockey passes, the challenged shots. All those little things added up into a big win.
He didn’t bring the big numbers. But he did all the right things. Wes Unseld is the 42nd best player in the history of the NBA.
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