As the clock ticked away on the 2015-16 NBA campaign, LeBron James slashed from the top of the arc, eluded three Warriors defenders, and laid the ball through the net with ease.
Posting a triple-double alongside stifling defense, James earned his third NBA Finals MVP award by marching Cleveland to the NBA title 93-89 Sunday night, muscling back from a 3-1 Finals deficit to snuff Golden State’s record-setting season.
Draymond Green was an animal, scoring 22 first-half points to go with six boards, five assists and two steals. For only one minute of the first 24, Green sat on the bench, and though his second half wasn’t as strong, he served as the master of tempo and dictated terms for the night, leading the Warriors with 32 points and 15 rebounds.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson stepped up the offensive production after Green grew fatigued, combining for 10 points during the third quarter, while Harrison Barnes added seven points and the bench chipped in four more.
Thompson stepped from the elbow, 24 feet from the rim, driving in to lay the ball through the hoop with 4:39 left, and the score was tied at 81-81.
A Cavaliers shot clock violation let the Warriors know their defensive strategies were working, and though Thompson bricked an awful shot selection while being double-teamed, the Warriors appeared calm.
“At home in the fourth quarter, I felt like we could go for that dagger punch and didn’t really put any pressure on the defense getting to the paint and trying to force the issue that way, and really just kind of settled too much. That’s something that is tough to kind of swallow with the opportunity we had in front of us.”
The scored became tied again, stuck at 89-89 with just under three minutes to go, and a wide-open Green missed a shot he’d normally make from the perimeter.
Then Kyrie Irving sank a three — the nail in Golden State’s coffin.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said:
“They deserved it. They hit some key shots. They made the plays. And, as I said, congrats to the Cavs and to the city of Cleveland.”
James racked up his 16th career playoff triple-double with 27 points, 11 boards and 11 assists — sitting just one minute for the entire game. Much like the game and the series, Green got close with nine assists of his own, but fell short.
“Everybody was obviously just sad, just down. We were right there. Two cracks at it at home where we had lost three games, I think, all year going into Game 5. So we had our chances, and our guys know that. They’re really bummed out. But, as I said, that’s the way it goes.”
Curry’s head was bowed as he sat low in an office chair that faced into his locker following the game, with Barnes to his right in a similar position.
Festus Ezeli buried his face in his hands across the room, split in half by a sea of reporters and the obvious absence of champagne showers and bliss.
The Cavaliers locker room was filled with champagne and cigar smoke, while jokes could be heard about their shooting guard J.R. Smith requesting Hennessy instead of Korbel.
Draymond Green said:
“I mean, it sucks. Obviously, you hate to lose being we had a 3-1 lead. So you think about all that stuff. You think about: What if? What if I would have done this? What if I would have done that? All that stuff replays in your head. But you’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They were down 3-1. They continued to battle, and they never quit. Their leaders led.”
“LeBron put the team on his back, Kyrie put the team on his back, and everybody followed suit. Tristan was amazing throughout the course of this series, and, like I said, everybody else followed suit. I’m not sure if it’s more so about what we did than you’ve just got to give them credit. They battled, and they deserved to win it.”
Andre Iguodala said that the series was meant for Cleveland to win, noting that clutch shooting and solid defense, mixed with downpours from Irving, made the difference. Iguodala also provided another reason:
“Because God said so.”
While James took over the game — and the last five games of the series for Cleveland — Curry didn’t have many clutch moments. The Cavaliers placed a heavy emphasis on defending him, and it clearly made an impact. But that doesn’t mean Curry doesn’t feel some responsibility for the Finals loss:
“I didn’t play efficient. I had some good moments, but didn’t do enough to help my team win, especially down the stretch. I was aggressive, but in the wrong ways settling. It will haunt me for a while because it means a lot to me to try to lead my team and do what I need to do on the court and big stages. Done it before. Didn’t do it tonight. It will be good down the stretch or next year coming back and kind of remembering this feeling and being an even better player.”