In the end, it was LeBron James. One of the most dominant individuals in NBA history overcame one of the league’s most dominant teams, when the Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the Golden State Warriors on the road in a thrilling 93-89 win in Game 7 to win the NBA Championship, the first in Cavaliers history.
James and the Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to come back from a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, winning the final three games of the series over the 73-win Warriors thanks to a streak of superiority from one of the NBA’s greatest players. Kyrie Irving hit the three of his life to give the Cavaliers the stunning win.
James had 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in the clincher, after going off for 41 points apiece in Games 5 and 6. It was the third Game 7 triple-double in NBA history. After leaving Cleveland for the Miami Heat in 2010 and winning two titles, the Akron native returned to the Cavaliers in 2014 to deliver a title to the Ohio city that hadn't seen a championship in any major sport since the Cleveland Browns won the 1964 NFL Championship. He came through in his second season back in Cleveland, leading the Cavaliers to an improbable title over the Warriors.
After winning the most games in regular season history, the Warriors came up short in the Finals, losing three consecutive games for the first time all season after dominating the Cavaliers through the first four games of the series to the tune of a 3-1 lead. Stephen Curry had 17 points in Game 7, but struggled throughout the series, failing to live up to his back-to-back regular season MVP awards.
Oracle Arena roared from the opening tip as both teams came out firing. Festus Ezeli started for the first time all postseason in place of the injured Andrew Bogut, and the Warriors avoided a repeat of their slow start in Game 6 thanks to five three-pointers in the first. James had six points and six rebounds to lead the Cavaliers as they took a 23-22 lead into the second quarter.
James and Draymond Green took turns taking over in the second quarter. James was a block machine on the defensive end and Green couldn't miss a shot. Green was 5-of-5 from deep on his way to 22 first-half points. The Warriors couldn't pull away from James and the Cavaliers, though, as Irving gave the Cavaliers a boost on the offensive end of the court. The Warriors hit 10 three-pointers in the half and took a 49-42 lead as the Cavaliers went 1-of-14 from deep.
J.R. Smith brought the heat to start the second half, hitting two threes to lead an 8-0 Cavaliers run that tied the game at 54. Then, after the Warriors went on a 5-0 run, Irving took over. He led the Cavaliers on an 14-2 run as the Cavaliers threatened to pull away. The Warriors weren't going to roll over -- they haven't all season. They stormed back with a 15-7 run to end the third quarter and took a 76-75 lead heading into the final frame.
Neither team could gain an edge early in the fourth, but a Curry bomb from deep and a Klay Thompson bucket from the corner gave the Warriors an 85-83 lead with 6:15 to play. The Warriors took a four-point lead, but James drew a foul on a three and then hit his first three of the game to give the Cavaliers an 89-87 lead with 4:53 to play. The Warriors tied it on the next possession, but neither team scored over the next 2:30, setting up a final 2:00 with the teams tied at 89.
James had the block of the series on a Warriors fast break with 1:45 remaining, but missed a shot in the lane with 1:25 left. Curry missed a three on the following possession, and it was tied with 1:00 to play.
Then, Irving shimmied his way to a three to give the Cavaliers a 92-89 lead.
Curry missed a three on the following possession, James hit two free throws and that was it -- the Cavaliers were champions.
3 things we learned
What else can you say about LeBron James?
James is the NBA's greatest player. There's no doubt about that. He was too overpowering, too fast, too good for the Warriors.
There was nothing the Warriors could do but throw their best back at James and the Cavaliers. James followed up his 82 points, 24 rebounds and 18 assists in Games 5 and 6 with another masterful performance in Game 7. No matter his Finals record, he's one of the greatest the NBA has ever seen.
Stephen Curry never found a rhythm
The back-to-back MVP had a forgettable. Aside from his 38-point outburst in Game 4, he was a disaster compared to his regular-season self. He had 17 points in Game 7 and 30 in Game 6, but he was a mess on the defensive end and had multiple mental lapses that led to sloppy play. In two possessions early, Curry turned the ball over attempting a fancy dribble behind his back on a fast break and then complained about a foul call instead of getting back on Smith, who snuck free for an easy fast-break bucket. James got in Curry's head, and it was the difference as the Cavaliers shocked the Warriors.
Go nuts, Cleveland. Go nuts
James came back to Cleveland to deliver the city a title, and it's exactly what he did. Now, Cleveland can celebrate a title for the first time in Cavaliers history. It's a momentous moment for the city and the franchise -- not only did they come back from 3-1 down, they beat the greatest regular season team ever, defying the odds to deliver an unbelievable title.
It was a season for the ages capped off by a comeback for the ages and a Game 7 for the ages. In the end, it was LeBron James and Cleveland on top.
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