It turns out Game 5 was merely a gift from the Warriors.
A gift to NBA fans on Twitter, to let them get their recycled 3-1 jokes off for three extra days. To Joe Lacob and Warriors’ ownership, giving them another home game and another $12 million in revenue. And to the Oracle faithful, to see a championship clinched in person and not just broadcast on the jumbotron at a watch party.
But Monday there were no gifts left to give, just a 129-120 championship win, becoming the first Bay Area team to win a title at home since the 1974 Oakland Athletics.
This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Warriors’ locker room at Oracle Arena.
The game didn’t start out that way though. An 11-point halftime lead left many fans nervous, and then the second half happened.
To Steve Kerr it was pretty much expected in a closeout game:
“I’ve been lucky to be part of seven of these, actually, five as a player and two now as a coach. Seems like every closeout game is just difficult. You’re nervous, you got all this energy, it’s usually not pretty from the beginning.”
If the first half was full of questions, the second half had all the answers.
It was like all of the pleadings and prayers of Warriors fans and writers were heard. Every adjustment they’ve been begging to see was unfolded like a Christmas gift given in June, but patiently stared at until the date arrived.
Wish Kerr wouldn’t play his entire bench and ride his stars? The Warriors suddenly shorten their rotation to nine guys. Where’s the Curry-Durant pick-and-roll? It was there in the third quarter. Every. Single. Play. How come they don’t go to the Death Lineup more? Well they went to it early and then closed the game with it for the last eight and a half minutes straight. Less Zaza Pachulia? Ok, well that was still there. But who cares, because he’s an NBA champion now.
The cry from the Bay Area has been for the Warriors to go small more often, relying on their best lineup with Draymond Green at center and trying to push the pace. Well, Kerr did the exact opposite in the second quarter.
With the offense and defense both careening into a nosedive, the Warriors went big, the biggest they could get, with a lineup of Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Green and David West. And that changed the entire game with the Warriors going up as much as 17 in the second.
The makeshift lineups were a necessity as once again the Warriors racked up the fouls with both Thompson and Durant in foul trouble early.
And while they struggled to regain any kind of offensive footing, the Warriors got major contributions from their vets. Livingston scored just five points, but each point came at crucial times, when the offensive was having trouble executing even the most basic set.
When that happens, it’s nice to have the safety blanket that is the Livingston turnaround jumper. And now he’s an NBA champion again.
Another vet, West, might have been the Warriors most important player on the court in the first half. After averaging just 10 minutes per game in the first four games, he played nine straight minutes in the second quarter.
While his stats show just four points and three rebounds, West was crucial, manning the high post on offense and walling off all the Cavs on D. And setting the tone when the Cavs tried to push back.
All to be able to be called an NBA champion for the first time in his career.
Then it was the fresh legs of Iguodala that pushed them into another level. Iguodala dunked and dunked and dunked his way through the Cavs defense to the tune of 20 points. He also finished as a plus-60 for the Finals, the highest mark of any Warriors player. And he gets his second NBA title.
And then there was the new kid, Patrick McCaw playing absolutely huge minutes, scoring six minutes in his 12 minutes on the court and looking like he belonged. He out poised the Cavs veterans Deron Williams and Kyle Korver, and showed why Kerr had the confidence to throw him out there in the fourth quarter of an NBA Finals closeout game. An NBA champion as a rookie.
All these contributions allowed the Warriors stars to rest, bide their time, and then put the team on their back the final quarter.
Curry finished with 34 points and 10 assists, and Finals MVP Kevin Durant scored 30 points every game against Cleveland and finished Monday with a playoff-high 39. Curry’s Finals averages of 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 9.4 assists could have easily won him MVP, but he’ll settle for putting to rest any doubts over being able to perform in the Finals, and once again, he’s an NBA champion.
Thompson finished with just 11 points but his defense, just like it has been all postseason, was the unseen hand that kept the Cavs in check.
And for Green the most important numbers weren’t the 10 points or 12 rebounds, but it was the zero turnovers, and zero temper flare ups. He played under control all game, and neither the refs nor the Cavs could shake that. In fact, he even helped any Cavs player up whenever they hit the deck.
Green said that he got told by everyone to chill:
“I talked to my dad, my grandmother, every person I saw walking down the street, my mom, everybody’s like keep your cool. I had to ask myself is it that bad? I’m in a grocery store, guy’s like keep your cool. I’m like Jesus Christ this must be bad.”
Now they’re both champions again.
All that added up to the Warriors celebrating on their home floor.
For Durant it was a moment that he’s waited his whole life for:
“It was 55 seconds left and I went over the halfcourt line and I bent down, and I’m like is this really happening? And Draymond was like, ‘keep playing to the end.’ Andre is like, ‘keep playing.’ We have like 50 seconds left and I’m like, bro, we’re about to win the title.”
Just like the slogan, this was a game of strength in numbers. Everyone contributed, everyone adjusted, and everyone made sure there would be no 3-1 jokes this year.
That’s what brought Durant to Oakland:
“We did it together. What about Patrick McCaw tonight? What about Zaza Pachulia to start the game? He was amazing. What about Stephen Curry after not having a great game in Game 4, came out tonight, played like a big dog… Call us a super team, but it’s been a lot of super teams that haven’t worked. We came together and we continued to just believe in each other and we sacrificed, and we’re champions now.”
Everyone felt how much he wanted this, and it showed.
Curry summed it up pretty well:
“I’m happy for him, you got to call Kevin Durant a champ now.”
As well as the rest of the team, they’re all champs now.
All that’s left is the parade Thursday.
Kevin Durant (21 points) and Stephen Curry (20) have both scored at least 20 points in the same half for the second time this postseason. … Kevin Durant scored 30 points nine times this postseason, including all five games of the Finals. He’s also the only player with Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal to score 25 points in each of his first 10 Finals games. … Not only is this the Warriors fifth championship in franchise history, it’s also the fifth championship of the decade for Bay Area teams.
Curtis Uemura is SFBay’s Golden State Warriors beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @CUemura on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Warriors basketball.