Stephen Curry has it all.
He won the Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals, the trophy thought by some to be the final piece in his legacy.
In the Bay Area, we’ve seen some pretty amazing performances with a championship on the line. You could make the argument that Curry’s performance against the Boston Celtics vaults him right to the top of those who went above and beyond the call when it mattered most.
Having worked in the business for 40 years, I’ll place Curry at No. 3 on my mythical “Mount Clutchmore” alongside three others whose heroics throughout the postseason was cause for parades from a delirious fan base.
Here’s how they rank:
1. Madison Bumgarner, Giants, 2014
The mere sight of Bumgarner striding to the mound in the fifth inning of Game 7 against the Kansas City Royals was unparalleled high drama. Then he proceeded to shut down the Royals for five innings on just two days ’rest and even survived an outfield misplay with two outs in the ninth.
When Bumgarner got Salvador Perez on a foul pop to third baseman Pablo Sandoval, he completed a five-inning save, giving up just two hits. Having beaten the Royals twice in the series, Bumgarner was World Series MVP.
If that’s not enough, Bumgarner was also the MVP of the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Louis Cardinals and kicked off the Giants ’postseason run with a complete-game win in Pittsburgh in the one-and-done wild-card game.
Bumgarner’s final postseason line: A 4-1 record with one unforgettable save and 1.04 earned run average over 52 innings, giving up 45 hits with six walks and 45 strikeouts.
2. Rickey Henderson, Athletics, 1989
Henderson laid waste to both the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS and the Giants in the World Series with the kind of tour de force that could be authored only by Henderson and no one else.
Amazingly enough, Henderson’s heroics were overshadowed to a degree because Will Clark was having his own huge championship series against the Chicago Cubs and by an earthquake that interrupted the Bay Bridge World Series against the Giants.
The MVP of the ALCS, Henderson hit .400 with a .609 on-base percentage with two home runs and five RBIs, eight runs and eight stolen bases in five games. Then against the Giants, Henderson hit .474 with a double, two triples and a .524 on-base percentage over the four-game sweep.
The damage Henderson inflicted upon the Blue Jays and Giants overall: A .441 batting average with one double, three triples, three home runs, 11 stolen bases and a .545 on-base percentage.
3. Stephen Curry, Warriors, 2022
Truth be told, Curry’s postseason wasn’t head and shoulders statistically above what two other Warriors did as Finals MVPs – Rick Barry in 1975 and Kevin Durant in 2017-18.
In leading the Warriors to a 16-6 postseason, Curry averaged 28.0, 26.0, 23.8 and 31.2 in the four series wins.
What gives Curry the nod is a career-defining Game 4 in Boston with the Warriors appearing to be on the ropes against a younger Celtics team and trailing 2-1 in the Finals. Curry scored 24 points in the second half and finished with 43. He had 10 rebounds. He rained step-back 3-pointers when they were needed most.
“He wouldn’t let us lose,” said Draymond Green.
“The heart of that man is incredible,” said guard Klay Thompson.
Curry flipped the series for good in the Warriors’ direction. They didn’t lose again.
4. Joe Montana, 49ers, 1989
Montana’s biggest moment actually came a year earlier when he led the 49ers on a 92-yard game-winning drive culminating in a 10-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor with 45 seconds left to beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII in Miami.
But for Montana at his best, it’s impossible to match the 49ers ’postseason performance the following year. Montana was as good as any quarterback has ever been, outscoring the Vikings (41-13), Rams (30-3) and Denver Broncos (55-10) in Super Bowl XXIV in New Orleans.
Over three games, Montana completed 78.3 percent of his passes (65 of 83) for 800 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 146.4.
Against Denver, Montana was 22 of 29 for 297 yards and five touchdowns in winning his third Super Bowl MVP award.
Steve Young, 49ers, 1994: Set a Super Bowl record with six touchdown passes against the San Diego Chargers and emerged from Montana’s shadow. In three postseason wins, Young completed 59 of 81 passes for 623 yards and nine touchdowns while rushing for 128 yards and two scores.
Gene Tenace, Athletics, 1972: After going 1-for-17 in the ALCS, Tenace became the only player to hit home runs in his first two World Series at-bats. In taking four of seven from the heavily favored Cincinnati Reds, Tenace hit .348 with four home runs and nine RBIs and won the World Series MVP.
Rick Barry, Warriors, 1975: The Warriors not only upset the heavily favored Bullets in the Finals, but swept them with four consecutive come-from-behind wins. Barry was the Finals MVP averaging 29.5 points per game and averaged 28.4 in beating Chicago in the Western Conference finals.
Brandi Chastain, US Women’s Soccer, 1999: Whatever your feeling about penalty kicks to determine a winner, Chastain delivered the decisive penalty kick in a shootout win over China in the FIFA World Cup final at the Rose Bowl before 90,185 fans – an international record for a women’s event. The San Jose native also scored in a quarter-final win over Germany. There is a statue of her likeness after her celebration in a sports bra outside the Rose Bowl.
Jerry Rice, 49ers, 1988: Rice was the Super Bowl MVP against the Bengals in Miami and over the course of three postseason wins caught 21 passes for 409 yards, averaging 19.5 yards per catch, with six touchdowns.
Pablo Sandoval, Marco Scutaro, Giants, 2012: The Venezuelans were the Giants most consistent hitters during a World Series title run. Sandoval hit .364 with five doubles, six homers and 13 RBIs in 16 playoff games. He hit three homers off Justin Verlander and was MVP of the World Series against Detroit. Scutaro hit .328 with four doubles and 14 RBIs in the postseason and was the MVP of the LCS against St. Louis. Louis.
Reggie Jackson, Athletics, 1973: After missing the ’72 series with a torn hamstring, Jackson was named World Series MVP after the A’s beat the New York Mets in seven games. In Oakland wins in Games 6 and 7, Jackson hit two doubles and a home run.
Kevin Durant, Warriors, 2017, 2018: Take your pick. Durant was the Finals MVP both seasons, averaging 25.3 points in 2017 and 26.1 points the next year in winning eight times and losing just once to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Jim Plunkett, Raiders, 1980: Led the Raiders to four wins, becoming the first wild card team to win the Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles in New Orleans. He won the Super Bowl MVP over linebacker Rod Martin (three interceptions), completing 13 of 21 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-10 Raiders win.
Ken Stabler, Raiders: Compiled a 104.1 passer rating over three postseason wins against New England, Pittsburgh and finally Minnesota as the Raiders finally won the big one. The Raiders went run-heavy that postseason, but Stabler was 12 of 19 for 180 yards and a touchdown in a 32-14 win over the Vikings.