It seemed like the Golden State Warriors were going to do it again -- they were going to crawl their way back from oblivion to steal yet another win. They had already done it 88 times this season throughout the regular season and playoffs -- what was once more? Stephen Curry sprinted down the court on a two-on-one fast break with the game knotted at 89 with 1:53 to play, caught a pass from Andre Iguodala and fed the ball back to the streaking Iguoadala for what should have been a layup.
Then LeBron James rose from floor like he always does. After chasing down the fast break, he soared higher than anyone is supposed to be able to, and swatted the ball off the backboard with vigor -- and for James, the Warriors had no answer. The NBA's best player had 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists as the Cleveland Cavaliers won Game 7, 93-89, becoming the first team to come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win the NBA Championship. James delivered Cleveland its first title in franchise history and the city's first major sports championship since the Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship in 1954.
For the Warriors, they came up one game short of the ultimate prize after sprinting through the regular season to an NBA record 73 wins before coming back from a 3-1 series deficit of their own in the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Warriors turned the tables in that series after Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook laughed off the defensive play of Curry in a press conference following Game 5.
The Warriors didn't learn any lessons, though. Instead, after Draymond Green was suspended for Game 5 because of a flagrant foul at the end of Game 4, the Warriors used their press conferences as a vehicle to question James' toughness.
It didn't work. James put the city of Cleveland on his back in Games 5, 6 and 7 with a performance for the ages, averaging 36.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game over the series' final three games -- and the Warriors simply had no answer. Instead of letting their play do their talking on the court, they faltered over the series' final three games to mar what could have been the NBA's greatest season.
Curry was a mess throughout the series. Aside from his 38-point outburst in the Game 4 win, he was a liability on defense and his sloppy dribbling and passing halted the Warriors' offense on many occasions. On two consecutive possessions in the first quarter of Game 7, he turned the ball over with a sloppy behind-the-back dribble and then failed to get back on defense following a missed three because he was arguing with a referee.
Klay Thompson was no better for the Warriors. The Splash Brothers combined for 31 points on 12-of-36 shooting and turned the ball over seven times. In the biggest game of their lives, the Warriors got nothing from the Splash Brothers.
Green, on the other hand, did everything he could to deliver the Warriors a second title. He had 32 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists, but it wasn't enough. The Warriors were never a team with just one star; without Curry and Thompson hitting they didn't stand a chance -- especially with a possessed James on the other side of the ball.
The Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the finals because James didn't let the off-court issues cloud his game. Instead, he turned in the best performance of his life while the Warriors searched for answers.
Make no mistake about it, this Warriors team was special. They gave the NBA 73 wins and were one win from cementing themselves as an all-time great team. Now, with Harrison Barnes' impending free agency, they'll have some decisions to make this offseason. The core of the Warriors will be back, but the how much will change? And should anything?
The Warriors had an answer for everything all season long, until they ran into James. When it comes to an all-time great, sometimes all you can do is tip your hat and acknowledge the greatness. Or, you can wish you didn't make him mad.
LeBron James should be the all-time Finals MVP
2 other things
Kyrie Irving will be a Cleveland legend forever
It was the shot the city of Cleveland had been waiting 52 years for. Tied at 89 with just under one minute to play and the ball in his hands, Irving shimmied away from Curry and stepped back for a three. That was it.
It put the cap on an improbable comeback and was a picture of the series for Irving. He had moments where he was a disaster on defense, but he was the superior player to Curry this series. He had 26 points in Game 7, enough to help James deliver a title to a city that so desperately needed one.
LeBron James cemented his status as the game's best player
James averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals and 2.3 blocks in the finals. It was unreal. He led all players in each one of those stats -- he was the first player in NBA history to do so in the finals. It was a performance that might never be matched again, and it came on the game's biggest stage. He clearly outplayed back-to-back regular season MVP Curry, which isn't too much of a surprise, but he climbed the ladder of all-time greats with his performance this year. He now has three Finals MVP awards to go with his three rings, and has silenced many of his doubters.
Play of the night
The aforementioned block that saved the Cavaliers' season. The Irving shot will go down in history, but the James block is the reason the Cavaliers had a chance to put the game away.
3 fun things
LeBron James after winning Game 7: "CLEVELAND, THIS IS FOR YOU"
Stephen Curry wasn't all bad on defense.
The pre-game hype for this one was real. Someone even made a highlight reel with the NBA on NBC theme.
Cavaliers 93, Warriors 89 (SB Nation recap | Fear the Sword recap | Golden State of Mind recap)
* * *