Yes, the Golden State Warriors set a regular-season record with 73 wins with the NBA’s first unanimous MVP only to blow a 3-1 lead in the 2016 NBA Finals. But perhaps once our memories (and the memes) fade, the winners can finally write their own history, allowing the next generation of basketball fans to view this series through the lens it deserves.
It didn’t happen because the Warriors stumbled. Failure is easy: You literally don’t need to do anything. But winning, defying odds that stretched three games and 52 years, that required LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and the rest of the Cavaliers to ascend with remarkable individual and team performances, becoming the league’s first champions in nearly four decades to win Game 7 of the NBA Finals on the road.
Just like the previous two seasons (and perhaps for several more), one of these two teams will be crowned NBA champions. But even if it’s too early to write the history book on their rivalry, the 2016 chapter is closed.
Relive how it was decided, with the best of SB Nation’s NBA coverage from each game.
June 2, 2016 | Oracle Arena, Oakland, Calif. | Golden State leads, 1-0 (Box Score)
Golden State jumped to a 1-0 series lead over the visiting Cavaliers on the back of Shaun Livingston, whose 20 points equaled Steph Curry and Klay Thompson’s combined total and doubled that of Cleveland’s entire bench.
Paul Flannery: “The two-time Most Valuable Player couldn't make a shot and the seventh man who couldn't buy a basket in the previous round suddenly couldn't miss. If that was the only strange occurrence in Game 1 of the NBA Finals then maybe we could start to figure things out. Once again we were reminded that nobody knows anything. Or maybe, we already know too much.” — The Warriors find yet another way to beat the Cavaliers
June 5, 2016 | Oracle Arena, Oakland, Calif. | Golden State leads, 2-0 (Box Score)
Draymond Green, the Warriors’ do-everything glue guy, scored a game-high 28 points, giving Golden State what appeared to be a commanding 2-0 series lead. (Foreshadowing!) Adding injury to insult, the Cavs lost Kevin Love to a concussion that forced him to miss the second half, as well as Game 3.
Liam Boylan-Pett: “The two-time first team All-NBA defender has been superb on defense as expected against Cleveland -- he's been everywhere, and his ability to not commit a foul in the lane is a sight to behold -- but his offense is making a difference in the finals. He's shooting 51.6 percent from the field and 50 percent from deep. The Cavaliers' game plan is begging Green to make shots from deep, and he's delivering.” — Draymond is taking over, and there’s nothing the Cavs can do about it
Tom Ziller: You can’t compare the ways the Warriors and Cavs were built
Tim Cato: Warriors’ passing makes a coach cry tears of joy
Paul Flannery: LeBron James and the Cavs face their moment of truth
Mike Prada: The Warriors are daring LeBron James to beat them, and he can’t
June 8, 2016 | Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland | Golden State leads, 2-1 (Box Score)
The Cavs roared back on their home floor, jumping ahead by 20 points in the opening frame before putting the game on ice in the second half. With Kevin Love sidelined, Tyronn Lue went small with Richard Jefferson at the four — a bold move that set the stage for LeBron James (32 points) and Kyrie Irving (30) to break out.
Paul Flannery: “Credit Cavs' coach Ty Lue with the lineup switch. Credit LeBron with having a signature game when it was needed most. Credit everyone in Cleveland, with the exception of poor Kevin Love who will now have to endure another 48 hours of talk about how he's the problem. ‘Let's slow down with that,’ Jefferson said. ‘At the end of the day, we protected once. We protected home court.’” — The NBA Finals get real but stay absurd
Mike Prada: LeBron guarding Draymond changed everything for the Cavs
Jesus Gomez: The simple adjustment Cleveland made to revive Kyrie Irving
Satchel Price: Cleveland breathes live into NBA Finals with 120-90 win
Rodger Sherman: What’s up with all these NBA playoff blowouts?
June 10, 2016 | Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland | Golden State leads, 3-1 (Box Score)
Steph Curry, quiet in the first three games, exploded for 38 points to give the Warriors the 3-1 series lead that eventually birthed 1,000 memes. Accompanying Curry’s offensive explosion was Andre Iguodala’s continued excellence on the other side to help disrupt Cleveland’s game plan and contain LeBron James.
Paul Flannery: “The Warriors are the revolution realized. Look up and down their roster and you will see players who at one time or another or in different situation would have slipped through the cracks and had their contributions minimized. Curry isn’t really a point guard. Green is an undersized four who plays center. Even Barnes, a prototypical wing on paper, has been a force as a smallball four. Iguodala is merely the epitome of all those experiences.” — The Warriors are the revolution
Tim Cato: The Warriors tricked the Cavs into their least effective offense
Rodger Sherman: Draymond swiped at LeBron’s groin, and now he’s suspended
Tom Ziller: Draymond can’t control himself, and that makes him great
Michael Katz: Steph Curry released some ugly shoes and people are ruthlessly mocking them
June 13, 2016 | Oracle Arena, Oakland, Calif. | Golden State leads, 3-2 (Box Score)
With Draymond Green suspended following his Game 4 antics, LeBron James extended the series with a brilliant performance (even by his lofty standards): 41 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists. Kyrie Irving added another 41 points, as the duo became the first-ever teammates to top 40 in the same Finals game.
Tom Ziller: “Why can't he always play like he did on Monday? Because the way he always plays is already better than just about anyone who has ever played basketball. When you average 28-9-7 at the highest levels of the sport, sometimes you'll do better than that (see: Game 5) and sometimes you'll do worse (see: earlier this series). If LeBron managed to average 41 for a series, people would find a way to criticize the loss in which he scored 30. There's so little acknowledgment that what he's already doing is almost unprecedented, and that leads to outsized expectations with no bearing in reality.” — Why LeBron James can’t always play ‘like that’
Zito Madu: Kyrie Irving sliced through the Warriors by going into Uncle Drew mode
Jason Patt: The Warriors aren’t the same team without Draymond Green
Paul Flannery: Draymond gave the Cavs hope. Can he take it away?
Rodger Sherman: For a night, LeBron and Kyrie shut up their critics. It was beautiful.
Ziller: Kyrie is outplaying Curry, which should give the whole league hope
June 16, 2016 | Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland | Series tied, 3-3 (Box Score)
LeBron James was magnificent again with another 41-point performance, refusing to let the Warriors repeat as champions on his home court and forcing a winner-take-all Game 7 in Oakland. The Curry family, meanwhile, was in full meltdown mode, with Ayesha accusing the NBA of being rigged after watching Steph foul out.
Tom Ziller: “It was the purest form of LeBron you'll ever see. He settled for stagnancy and long jumpers a couple of times at the end of the third and looked a bit gassed, but the intermission was all he needed to come back fierce. No one in the game -- no one since Jordan, Magic and Bird -- can play like this. Throwing alley-oops, finishing alley-oops, torturing Andre Iguodala in the post, smothering Draymond Green, swatting Stephen Curry and being everywhere every second.” — No one’s disrespecting LeBron James anymore
Paul Flannery: 48 minutes to settle everything
Zito Madu: LeBron James should feel bitter about Stephen Curry’s rise
Mike Prada: Tristan Thompson is beating the Warriors at their own screening game
Rodger Sherman: This is why Stephen Curry was fined, not suspended
Ricky O’Donnell: Ayesha Curry claimed the NBA is ‘absolutely rigged’
June 19, 2016 | Oracle Arena, Oakland, Calif. | Cleveland wins, 4-3 (Box Score)
In a series of blowouts, Game 7 was atypically close the entire time before Kyrie Irving’s dagger with less than a minute remaining won Cleveland its first pro sports championship since 1964. LeBron James turned in a triple-double, setting up Uncle Drew’s heroics just a minute earlier with an iconic chase-down block on Andre Iguodala.
Paul Flannery: “Game 7's are rarely this good. There were 20 lead changes and 11 ties and nothing ever felt answered until those last seconds ticked off the clock. That's when belief gave way to shock, and shock slowly dawned on everyone that the reality of the moment was at hand. The Cleveland Cavaliers were freaking NBA champions. More than half a century of Cleveland sports heartbreak melting away in the warm glow of the Larry O'Brien trophy. LeBron cradled it in his arms and that's when reality gave way to tears.” — You can believe in LeBron James
Rodger Sherman: Never doubt LeBron James again
Zito Madu: LeBron’s black on Iguodala was the NBA Finals’ perfect ending
Tim Cato: A complete timeline of J.R. Smith partying shirtless
Tom Ziller: 5 ways the Warriors angered the Basketball Gods
Ziller: The Warriors will be back (Spoiler: They are.)