Cleveland: The Golden State Warriors were the prohibitive favorites to win a second straight championship entering these NBA Finals. After completing a four-game sweep, they proved why.
The Warriors were dominant Friday night, routing the Cavaliers 108-85 to claim their third NBA crown in four years – all with Cleveland as their opponent. It was a performance befitting a team that will go down among the greats in the history of the sport.
A team that appears to be in the early stages of a dynasty, Golden State was ferocious on defense and seamlessly smooth on offense.
The Golden State Warriors celebrate after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers 108-85 in Game 4.
The Warriors produced seven steals and 13 blocks while defending and 14 3-pointers, 25 assists and just eight turnovers when they had the ball – evidence of what the team is capable of when focused, which Golden State clearly was in the clincher.
Most importantly, the Warriors' two former MVP winners, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, were locked in. Curry had 37 points, making 7 of 15 shots from 3, while Durant followed up his 43-point performance in Game 3 with his first triple-double – 20 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists – in an NBA Finals game en route to being named the series MVP.
LeBron James, meanwhile, had 23 points, seven rebounds and eight assists in 41 minutes as his incredible playoff run came to a quiet end. He checked out for the final time with 4:03 remaining to a standing ovation, as well as an MVP chant from the fans inside Quicken Loans Arena.
The question now is whether it was James' final home game for Cleveland, with free agency looming this summer.
Stephen Curry goes to the basket.
For Golden State, though, Friday night's victory moved the franchise into rarefied air. The Warriors' successful title defense marked the 13th time in NBA history a team has won at least two in a row, and they became the seventh franchise to do so, joining the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons.
Claiming a third title in four years puts the Warriors in even rarer company. It's only happened six other times in NBA history – the last being when the Lakers won three titles in a row from 2000 to 2002.
Still, the air of inevitability that came with this championship made for a different feeling than, say, how the Washington Capitals celebrated winning the Stanley Cup the previous night. While that was a joyous celebration after decades of heartbreak, the Warriors getting the result they were always expected to felt more like a relief after a long slog of a season, a result long expected and predicted by many before the season tipped off.
The weight of expectations have hung over this team from the moment the Warriors added Kevin Durant to a team that won an NBA-record 73 games two years ago.
Last season, the newness of Durant's arrival propelled the Warriors forward. They cruised to 67 wins, then looked utterly dominant in posting a 16-1 record in the postseason – including winning their first 15 games of the playoffs – that was capped by beating the Cavaliers in five games to win the title.
This season, though, things were far different. Golden State suffered a rash of injuries, seeing all four of their all-stars miss at least nine games, led by Curry sitting for 37 – including six playoff games. Looking like they were in second gear for most of the season, the Warriors won perhaps the most uninspiring 58 games in NBA history, and ceded home court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs to the Houston Rockets in the process.
That nearly wound up costing the Warriors dearly, as fourth-quarter collapses in both Games 4 and 5 of the Western Conference finals allowed Houston take a 3-2 lead in the series, and move Golden State to within a game of elimination. But the loss of Chris Paul to a hamstring injury in the final minute of Game 5 doomed Houston's chances, as Golden State won Games 6 and 7 – despite trailing at halftime of each – to make it back to the Finals.
That brief moment of vulnerability, though, quickly fell away. While Cleveland, despite being swept, gave Golden State a stiffer test than might have been expected – including going to overtime in Game 1, a game that included a memorable gaffe by the Cavaliers' J.R. Smith in the final moments of regulation, and Golden State needing an all-time performance from Durant to win Game 3 – the series had a sense of inevitability to all but the most die-hard of Cavaliers fans.
Golden boys: Kevin Durant, second from left, celebrates after the Warriors defeated the Cavaliers.
Now the focus shifts to the summer, which promises to be eventful for both teams. Golden State will be looking to retool a roster that, despite its dominance, might require some modification. After bringing 12 of the same 15 players back from last year's title team this year, there is likely to be significantly more turnover this summer.
The summer in Cleveland, meanwhile, will be consumed with James, whose next move will surely impact the entire league.
When the game ended, James – who congratulated the Warriors on the court when he exited the game – walked straight down the tunnel to the locker room, only stopping to greet family members.
As the media waited to get into the locker room postgame, a stream of players exited before it was opened. Once it did, only a handful remained. One of them was James, who sat slumped in his corner locker, bags of ice on his knees and a towel over his face.
After a few minutes, he eventually rose from his seat and disappeared into the back.
Dragging these Cavaliers through the Eastern Conference playoffs and returning to the NBA Finals for an eighth straight time – something no one has done since Bill Russell dominated the NBA in the 1960s – ranks as one of James's greatest accomplishments.
But even James, as great as he is, wasn't enough to prevent the Warriors from making history.
Let the dynasty discussion begin.
The Washington Post
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