The road to the NBA Finals for the defending champion Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers could not have been more different.
The Dubs sailed through a historic regular season with a record breaking 73-9 (.890) mark, eclipsing the previous high by the legendary 1996 Chicago Bulls by one win. When they hit the Western Conference Playoffs it was a bit different. They handled Houston (4-1) and Portland (4-1) fairly easily, but they were facing a 1-3 deficit after four games to the #3 Oklahoma City Thunder (who took the #2 seed San Antonio Spurs out 4-2). Turning on the fight, the Warriors came back, taking the final three, hard-fought games. Honestly, any of the last three games could have gone either way, but the Thunder fell short when it mattered most.
The Cavaliers finished the regular season with a respectable 57-25 (.695) record. As with the Dubs, when they hit the Eastern Conference Playoffs things were different. For the Cavs, they demolished and demoralized their opponents, though that is not to say there were not close games. They took out the Detroit Pistons 4-0 and did the same to the Atlanta Hawks. With homecourt advantage in the Eastern Finals the Cavs took the first two from the #2 seed Toronto Raptors, then slipped and lost both in Canada. Having no more of that, the Wine & Gold erupted in the final two, with blowout victories to take their second straight Eastern Conference title.
Thus, the stage was set for an epic showdown between the Warriors and the Cavaliers. Last year, without Love (at all) and Irving (after game one, which they lost), LeBron James led his team to capture the next two games, taking a 2-1 lead. Unfortunately, the depth of the Dubs overcame James’ incredible performances to win the next three games.
How familiar does this now sound?
After four games this year, the Dubs held a significant 3-1 edge and then things started falling apart with the suspension of Draymond Green for his flagrant fouls throughout the playoffs and finals (at least the ones where the refs blew the whistle on him) and in game 5 Andrew Bogut damaged his left knee and was lost for the remainder of the run. All of a sudden, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving imposed their collective wills and took the next two games, tying it at 3-3.
In the process, in game 5 James and Irving both scored 41 points, the first time teammates had each scored 40+ in a finals game. James followed in game 6 with another 41.
I am not going to debate things like Dubs Coach Steve Kerr calling out refs for fouling out Stephen Curry. They didn’t. Steph did. Period. Nor about Curry’s wife tweeting that the games are rigged, though that comment itself is really quite insane. The refs have a damn hard job and they are very good at officiating. I would love those who complain step in and do a better job. Or even as good. Really, I would love to see that!
Watching games, I see a lot of contact going on that I would call if I were on the floor. I see Green (and others, to be sure) get away with lots of fouls. If you really want to nit-pick, every player on every team gets away with holding, blocking, moving fouls every game. When they get caught … they complain … so what … play ball. And don’t throw your mouthpiece. Lastly, regardless of what Charles Barkley says, don’t hit anyone in their privates. Ever. IMHO any shot like that is pretty much automatic ejection. Especially kicking.
And, a side note on fouls. I abhor when a shooter, especially beyond the arc, jumps forward into a defender (wildly flailing the ball in the air) to engineer a foul. That is not a defensive foul. Period. It has no place in the game. Similar to flopping.
Back to the topic at hand … yes, this year’s series had more drama … different drama. And game 7 was a game to anticipate and wonder whose will and talent was going to best their opponent. This would be the 19th game 7 in league history. And no team had ever come back from a 1-3 deficit to take the crown.
This Game 7 was the kind of game we really wanted to see in every one of them. Tough. Close. Competitive. Lots of lead changes. Down to the wire.
A blocked shot by James that would have given the Dubs a 2-point advantage. A beautiful beyond-the-arc shot by Irving, taking the Cavs up by three. A free throw by James for some icing, with 10 seconds left. Two missed attempts at the opposite end. It was over.
The result was a LeBron James triple double (27-11-11), with overall good support from his team, and a couple of firsts – the first time that Cleveland has ever won an NBA Championship and the first NBA team to ever win the title after having been down 3 games to 1. Quite an accomplishment.
Oh, one other first. James is the first player to lead both teams in the Finals in 1) Points, 2) Assists, 3) Rebounds, 4) Blocks, and 5) Steals. That is over the top! Scores by game:
Cleveland Cavaliers 89 – Golden State Warriors 104
Cleveland Cavaliers 77 – Golden State Warriors 110
Golden State Warriors 90 – Cleveland Cavaliers 120
Golden State Warriors 108 – Cleveland Cavaliers 97
Cleveland Cavaliers 112 – Golden State Warriors 97
Golden State Warriors 101 – Cleveland Cavaliers 115
Cleveland Cavaliers 93 – Golden State Warriors 89
Congratulations to LeBron on his 3rd NBA Finals MVP, very well deserved, and to the Cavaliers team and family. A championship that was a long time coming and, seemingly, well worth the wait.
Over For Now.
Main Street One