These past NBA Finals were as pressure filled as any series I can ever remember. Could the Warriors validate their record 73-win season with a championship? And could LeBron James deliver Cleveland its first title since 1964 and in the process avoid falling to 2-5 career in the Finals? A 2-5 Finals record would be such a glaring blemish on LeBron’s resume, he would never be able to overcome it.
The end result was a thrilling seven-game series, with the Cavaliers pulling away in Game 7 to win it. With that said, here are my takeaways from what will go down as one of the greatest NBA Finals ever.
LeBron is now an immortal
Since being drafted first overall by the Cavaliers in 2003, LeBron James’ career was going to be defined by one thing and one thing only: Could he be the savior Cleveland had been waiting decades for and take a city that’s purgatory was as infamous with the city’s sports as winning was for franchises like the Yankees, Canadiens and Celtics and take them to a place not experienced by Cleveland since 1964. Cleveland had to live through “The Drive”, “The Fumble”, “The Decision”, “The Blown Save” and “The Catch.”
LeBron first came up short in the Finals with Cleveland in 2007 falling to the San Antonio Spurs in four games, and after failing to get back to the Finals in each of the next three seasons, LeBron did the unthinkable by leaving Cleveland to take his talents to South Beach where he won two and lost two Finals with the Heat. Even with two championships in his back pocket, everyone, including LeBron, knew he had unfinished business in the city by the lake. Once his four-year contract with Miami was up, LeBron returned, only to fail once again in his career quest losing to the Warriors in six games.
But this year, LeBron finally silenced the critics forever, leading the Cavaliers back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Warriors for the championship and in doing so, having arguably the best NBA Finals ever. LeBron led all players in points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks and minutes played. Not too shabby.
With Cleveland on the brink of elimination, LeBron had back-to-back 41-point games in Games 5 and 6, and followed that up with a triple-double in Game 7. He also had what was the greatest block in NBA history. No debate necessary. The situation was as follows: Game 7 of the NBA Finals, tied at 89, just under 2 minutes to play when Andre Iguodala thought he had an uncontested dunk that would have given the Warriors the lead when LeBron came out of no where and swatted Iguodala at the last possible second. That’s as clutch a defensive play as you’ll ever see.
From here on out, no one can ever say a bad word about LeBron. He’s done everything and anything that anyone could have ever asked of him. Any doubts about his abilities and career resume are now completely unjustified. He put the city of Cleveland on his back and took them to the promise land. The only question that remains about LeBron’s legacy is when he retires, will he be considered the greatest player to ever play the game? If he retired today, he’d be top four, easy. A few more championships would change that.
Draymond suspension changed complexion of series
The course of the NBA Finals changed late in Game 4 with the Warriors on the verge of taking a 3-1 series lead when LeBron and Draymond Green got into a scuffle. While the Warriors went on to win Game 4, upon league review, it was determined Draymond would be assessed a flagrant-1 foul, his fourth of the postseason resulting in a one-game suspension. That meant Draymond would miss Game 5. Cleveland would win Game 5 handily thanks to 41-point games from LeBron and Kyrie Irving (LeBron and Kyrie became the first teammates in Finals history to each score over 40 points in the same game). Draymond then made headlines following Game 5 declaring if he hadn’t been suspended, the series would have ended in five games. Not Draymond’s wisest moment.
Draymond returned for Game 6 in Cleveland, but the Cavaliers won by 14 to force a Game 7. Draymond was not very effective either scoring just eight points in the loss. Golden State would go on to lose Game 7 as well, and after the game Draymond took the blame for the Warriors losing the series as a result of his actions.
Here’s my take. If Draymond doesn’t get suspended, the Warriors most likely win, and Golden State was never able to recover from Draymond not playing in Game 5 with a chance to clinch a second straight title in Oracle. Since he missed Game 5, the Cavaliers seized the opportunity and took full advantage.
J.R. Smith’s Game 7 contributions can’t be overlooked
The Warriors led at halftime of Game 7 49-42, but the game changed dramatically in Cleveland’s favor in the first two and a half minutes of the second half when J.R. Smith, who hadn’t done much of anything all series long, scored eight points in the blink of an eye as the Cavaliers got the spark they so desperately needed. J.R. Smith hitting those shots opened everything up for the Cavaliers offensively and helped deflect attention away from LeBron and Kyrie who were carrying Cleveland offensively to that point in the game. If J.R. Smith doesn’t hit those shots, the Cavaliers don’t get the momentum and the Warriors probably win. That’s how monumental that hot stretch was from J.R.
Cavs don’t win series without play of Kyrie Irving
As much as the series changed when Draymond Green was suspended following Game 4, Kyrie Irving waking up and having the best three-game stretch he’s probably ever had had just as much to do with Cleveland winning as anything. Kyrie dropped 41 in Game 5, 23 in Game 6, and hit the shot of the series in Game 7. Tied at 89 with under a minute to play, Kyrie hit a step-back three over Steph Curry in what turned out to be the series winner.
As great as LeBron James was all series long, and as much as Draymond Green’s suspension was the reason the Warriors didn’t win the series, no one shot was bigger than the 3-pointer Irving knocked down late in Game 7. It’s one of the most clutch shots in NBA, and Finals history, and without it, LeBron’s critics might still be as loud as ever.
Steph comes up small
With 4:36 remaining in Game 7, the Cavaliers and Warriors were tied at 89. The situation called for Steph Curry, the reigning back-to-back MVP, to lead Golden State to the title. The entire NBA season was all about Steph Curry. He had the most magical season anyone could remember, except for the most crucial 4:36 of it. In that span, Curry missed all three of his shots, failing to make any positive contribution. I’m sorry, but there’s no excuse for it. When the season mattered the most, Curry couldn’t deliver, and he deserves any and all criticism that comes his way. If Curry does what he’s supposed to do in Game 7, we’re not sitting here talking about LeBron possibly being the greatest player ever, or about Draymond Green’s suspension being the reason the Warriors lost. Instead, the 2015-2016 Warriors would go down in history as the single greatest NBA team ever, and Curry would be the undisputed, without question, face of the NBA. He had the chance, and he blew it.
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