After winning Game 7 by four points, the Cleveland Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to come back from a 1-3 deficit in the Finals to defeat the Golden State Warriors 4-3. The victory also brought them their first ever NBA Championship. And while Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson will claim some credit for the title, history will remember LeBron James as the man who made all the difference.
Let’s take a look back at how the Finals panned out.
Road to the Finals
The Cavaliers caught red-hot form in the playoffs after topping the Eastern Conference in the regular season. They swept aside the Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs without dropping a game. The Toronto Raptors did drag the Eastern Conference Finals to six games, but eventually lost 4-2. The Cavaliers, thus, took their place in the finals for the second consecutive year.
The Warriors had the best regular season in NBA history as they broke the record for most wins in a single season by winning 73 games. In the playoffs, they dropped a game each to the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trail Blazers, before facing the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder had the Warriors on the ropes as they led the series 3-1, but the Warriors bounced back with three wins on the spin to schedule a repeat of the 2015 NBA Finals.
Games 1 & 2
The Warriors quickly took a 2-0 lead in the Finals, although the victories were anything but vintage Golden State performances. The first game saw the Splash Brothers – Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson – completely off their shooting game and the Warriors needed their bench to bail them out. Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa came off the bench and scored crucial points to ensure victory for the warriors.
The second game was a proper beat-down as the Warriors won by 33 points on the back of great defence and an awe-inspiring performance from Draymond Green. The Splash Brothers again stuttered, but the Warriors found points from elsewhere to win the game.
The Cavaliers then delivered a beat-down of their own by defeating the Warriors 120-90. James and Irving asserted themselves and this time the Warriors had no answer to the Cavaliers’ offensive masterclass.
This was a much more even game as Warriors eked out an 11-point victory. The highlight (or lowlight, if you prefer) of the game was Draymond Green being retroactively adjudged to have made a flagrant foul on James after the latter stepped over him (a sign of great disrespect). The flagrant foul led to a one-game suspension and Green missed Game 5.
The Warriors still went into Game 5 expecting to wind up the series, but the Cavaliers were having none of that. Irving and James put in stupendous performances, as for the first time two teammates scored more than 40 points each in an NBA Finals match. Cleveland won 112-97. Many, including Green, felt that the Warriors could have picked up the victory had he played. The Warriors also lost their seven-foot centre Andrew Bogut for the rest of the Finals to a knee injury.
As the Warriors took another crack at the championship, Irving and James picked up where they left off in Game 5. James, in particular, was in imperious form as he picked up 41 points and forced a Game 7. Curry on the other hand was ejected from the game after he threw his mouthguard at a fan.
This was the closest game of the series as the difference in scores never went to double digits. Draymond Green scored off his first five three-point attempts and the Warriors kept a lid on James and Irving, much to the delight of their fans. Yet, the Cavaliers didn’t allow the Warriors to run away either and with the Splash Brothers not quite exploding, the Warriors led by a single point going into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter was a terse low-scoring affair. The Cavaliers only made six three-pointers in the entire game, compared to the Warriors’ 15, but made the one that mattered the most. In the last minute, with the scores tied at 89, Irving scored from beyond the three-point line.
James was fouled soon after and went to the free-throw line with 10 seconds remaining in the game. He converted one of the two free throws to put four points between the teams and the title pretty much out of the reach of the Warriors.
Curry did get one last attempt at a three-pointer, but couldn’t convert and the buzzer rang out to finish the game. The Cavaliers won the game 93-89 and, with it, the NBA Championship.
The LeBron legacy is secure
The Warriors will probably go down in history as the best regular season team to not win the championship, but they can find little cause to complain. None of the Warriors came up with the kind of consistent performances in the playoffs that are needed to win championships. Stephen Curry might be the Most Valuable Player for the season, but his performance in the playoffs leaves a lot to be desired.
LeBron James, on the other hand, played the games of his life to take the Cavaliers to the title and deserves all the praise that he will undoubtedly get. It is his moment and he has surely earned it.