OAKLAND, California: The Golden State Warriors secured their second NBA championship in three seasons with a 129-120 Game Five win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, capping a near-perfect run through the play-offs.
The Warriors, who beat Cleveland in the 2015 Finals only to lose to them last year after squandering a 3-1 series lead, went a record-setting 16-1 in the playoffs, their only loss coming in Game Four of the best-of-seven championship.
The win provided redemption for the Warriors, who brought Kevin Durant over from the Oklahoma City Thunder last off-season to bolster their already high-powered offence.
Durant, who lost in his only previous Finals appearance in 2012, led the way for the Warriors with 39 points and was relieved after feeling pressure to deliver prior to the game. “I couldn’t sleep for two days,” Durant, who was named the Finals MVP, said during an on-court interview. “I was anxious, I was jittery. I just wanted to lay it all out there. I put in work, I just had to trust in it. We were really good tonight.”
Cavaliers’ forward LeBron James had a game-high 41 points and guard Kyrie Irving hit tough shots all night but defensive breakdowns by Cleveland led to easy baskets late in the game for the Warriors, igniting a deafening crowd.
James said he had no reason to feel sorry for himself. “I left everything on the floor every game, all five games,” he said. “I have no reason to put my head down.”
Warriors point guard Stephen Curry said the experience of losing last year’s Finals served them well this season. “We learned from everything we’ve been through,” Curry said during the trophy celebration.
“To be back here and bring gold Larry (O’Brien trophy) back home, I’m just excited to be a part of this group and accomplish something special. I’m ready to do it again.”
An unprecedented third straight Finals clash between the Warriors and Cavaliers was hyped as the ultimate championship rubber match and expected to be the antidote for a postseason that had little in the way of drama.
But that idea fizzled fast when the Warriors opened with a pair of lopsided wins at home, fought back late to steal the next game in Cleveland and then, after dropping their first game of the post-season, closed out the series at home.
In the end, the Cavaliers simply did not have enough top-class talent to topple the Warriors, even with four-time league MVP James doing all he could to keep his team in it.
For James, already a three-time champion, the loss puts him in rare company as only the fourth player to come up short in five NBA Finals. — Reuters
Highlights of NBA Finals –
Hefty locker room celebration
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant enjoyed a hefty locker room celebration before speaking to reporters after scoring 39 points in his team’s victory, which brought him his first NBA crown.
“I can’t wait to celebrate for the rest of the night, well, maybe the rest of the summer,” Durant said.
After answering one final question following an extended stay at the podium, the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player felt like he might have said more than he should.
“I’m talking too much at this point,” Durant said.
… but he earned every drop
Durant averaged 35.2 points and 8.4 rebounds a game in the finals to claim the MVP award unanimously, joining Rick Barry and Andre Iguodala as the only Warriors to win the award. His playoff scoring career average of 28.8 points a game ranks fourth all-time behind Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and Jerry West. His five games in a row with 30 points is the first in a finals since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000.
Almost perfect play-off run
The Warriors won their first 15 play-off games, sweeping out Portland, Utah and San Antonio and seizing a 3-0 lead on Cleveland before the Cavaliers snapped the longest play-off win streak in North American sports history by winning game four Friday in Cleveland. Although not perfect, the 16-1 playoff record for Golden State (.941) is the best win percentage of any team in NBA history, edging the 15-1 effort by the 2000 Los Angeles Lakers. No unbeaten champion’s playoff run in Major League Baseball has gone beyond seven wins and none in the National Hockey League went past eight wins.
LeBron adds to his legend
Cleveland star LeBron James played in his seventh consecutive finals and eighth career finals, falling to 3-5. But in this year’s playoff run, he surpassed Michael Jordan as the NBA’s all-time play-off scoring leader. Only five players from the 1960s Boston Celtics dynasty have played in eight or more consecutive finals, so James could share fourth on the all-time finals in a row list by making it next year. Bill Russell has the record with 10 in a row. James ranks third in all-time finals scoring with 1,247 points, trailing only Jerry West with 1,679 and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, just 70 points ahead of James. And with 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists a game in the finals, James became the first player to average a triple double in the finals.
NBA Finals trilogy thrills
This marked the first time that the same two teams met in the NBA Finals for a third consecutive year, with the Warriors owning a 2-1 edge in the trilogy. It was the first time in 61 years that any major North American sports league had such a trilogy play out, the most recent being the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings in 1954-56. Others were the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions from 1952-54 and Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees and New York Giants from 1921-23.