LeBron James had a triple-double, Kyrie Irvings three-pointer with 53 seconds left put Cleveland ahead to stay and the Cavaliers beat the Warriors in Game 7 of the NBA finals
Astounding. Thats not the only adjective to describe the Cleveland Cavaliers 93-89 Game 7 victory and first NBA championship in franchise history. Remarkable or sublime would work too. No team has ever come back from 3-1 down to win the NBA finals, until now. A series defined by back and forth body blows (both figurative and literal) ended in similar fashion two teams trading runs and pushing each other to the limit. The moment LeBron James returned to Ohio for has finally arrived. He got one for the Land.
Leading his team with a seventh career finals triple-double (27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists), James refused to be denied his third NBA championship and third finals MVP trophy. A hard bump on a shooting foul late in the game was one final obstacle to overcome. His free throw off that foul helped give the Cavs a four-point lead that iced the title. James was also vital on the defensive end, swatting three blocks, including a huge denial of Andre Iguodala, last years finals MVP and noted LeBron stopper, that prevented the Warriors from taking the lead with less than two minutes to go.
But as we learned from years past, as transcendent a player as LeBron is, he cant do it alone. The 2016 finals will be remembered partially as the coming out party for Kyrie Irving, a player whos been much maligned for his inability to function effectively as Jamess sidekick. That should end now, with Irvings 26 points and six rebounds and knack for making momentum-turning shots. With 53 seconds left after both teams failed to grab hold of the game late Irving buried the three that would give them the advantage for good. Kevin Love, the third member of the Cavs Big Three who never figured out his offensive game, brought down 14 vital rebounds to lead his teams interior dominance.
Cleveland controlled the paint with Andrew Bogut missing for the Warriors, outscoring the 2015 champions 48-28 inside the lane. Boguts replacement, Festus Ezeli, had about as painful a game as one can have in these kinds of moments: zero points on 0-4 shooting in 11 minutes of action, with one rebound and one assist. He was 0-3 in just the first five minutes of the game and never found his footing. That his misses were at the rim and high percentage shots will only make it harder to reconcile in the post-game analysis, of which there will be plenty.
The Warriors will have to ask what went wrong. Basketball pundits will point to every glaring failure in this series. Seventy-three wins in the regular season now carry the asterisk of a finals defeat. A 3-1 series advantage melted away, leaving Oracle Arena shellshocked. Draymond Green carried Golden State through much of the first half and finished with 32 points, 15 rebounds, and one assist shy of a triple-double. Unfortunately for them, the rest of the team failed to match his stellar performance. Steph Curry went missing in the decisive fourth quarter, failing to score and turning the ball over in ugly fashion with a wayward behind-the-back pass that flew out of bounds. Golden State forced passes in traffic and seemed to miss communication in crucial moments.
Curry and his fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson ended Game 7 a combined six of 24 from beyond the three-point line. The team as a whole shot only 38.6% from the field. The questions of Currys toughness and ability to close big games is guaranteed to intensify during the offseason. Game 7s cement legacies. Currys is still being written and how he responds to this setback will be fascinating to watch.
For James, this is his legacy. Sundays game was his response to the critics who said he wasnt clutch, the fans who questioned if he could ever win a title in Cleveland, and who wondered where his place in the pantheon of NBA greats would be. His finals MVP-winning performance in this series will quiet them all, or at least it should. Instead of debating of LeBron James ability to win big games, we should wonder if this was one of the greatest finals performances of all time.