1. First and foremost congratulations to the Golden State Warriors for winning their second title in three years and a special congratulations to Kevin Durant for winning the ring that had eluded him for so long in spite of his extremely decorated career to this point. But there will be PLENTY of think pieces that will much better ruminate on the impact this has on the league, what this does for the legacies of certain players, the cultural relevance of the result of this series and blah, blah, blah. Not trying to be glib about all of these things boys and girls but if y’all know me y’all know I’m much more concerned with what got us here, the game itself.
It’s would be impossible to talk about the Warriors’ playoff run specifically this series without singing the praises of Kevin “Don’t Need a Haircut When You Gotta Ring” Durant. All kidding aside the Finals MVP arguably saved his strongest performance for when it mattered most. KD lead the Dubs with a 39 point tour de force where he shot 70% from the floor. And he did it as he’s done all series in spite of drawing Cleveland’s best defenders the majority of the time. He was aggressive, when he got a favorable matchup on switches he seized them right away (RIP Kyle Korver) oh and he started hitting from Steph range for a bit too (he was 5 of 8 from deep last night). He added seven boards and five dimes (some of them truly impressive) to culminate a body a work that we won’t soon forget.
Also instrumental in Golden State returning to the top of the NBA food chain was a guy you may have heard of named Stephen Curry. His celebration was one of the purest embodiment of #blackboyjoy I’ve ever seen and it was well earned on his end. Steph finished with 34 points, 6 rebounds and 10 assists and was a maestro on the court. Despite struggling from beyond the arc Steph continuously caused breakdowns in the Cleveland defense and was able to wreak havoc in the mid-range and at the rim as evidenced by his 15 free throw attempts. I really don’t think anyone with a brain ever doubted that Steph and KD would gel but what they have unlocked is a partnership that the rest of the league is woefully prepared to address.
2. Both teams shot the ball relatively well so the defensive performances of note were more in the situational vein. And this is not a shot, closeout games bring out the best in most guys so these stops and won possessions are the very thing that win these games. In light of underwhelming performances on the offensive end Draymond Green and Klay Thompson lead the charge in providing those crucial stops that effectively put the Cavs away. Green did still finish with a double double with 10 and 12 and 5 assists while Klay finished with 11 points but did shoot well from beyond the arc canning 3 of his 7 attempts.
One of the biggest x-factors going into this series on both sides was the importance of the contributions of their second units. For the most part the scoring had been advantage Warriors but slightly despite them being far more efficient. Last night wasn’t even close. Golden State outscored their counterparts 35-7. Channeling some of that energy that landed him the Finals MVP the last time the Dubs hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy Andre Iguodala dropped 20 points on 9 of 14 shooting and was nails on defense. Strategically it was the right move by Cleveland. Normally he’s the guy you want to take the shot. However, knowing that Iggy (while he did shoot poorly from range going 2 of 7) stayed patient most of the time and waited for the inevitable breakdowns in the Cavs D and got numerous easy basket opportunities. Usual suspects Shaun Livingston and David West as well as rookie Patrick McCaw rounded out the bench with solid performances on both ends to seal it.
3. Well, one thing’s for sure, the Cleveland Cavaliers went down swinging. After game 2 there was a lot of talk (including from us) suggesting that they should slow the game down in order to disrupt the Warriors momentum and make the game more physical. They repeatedly scoffed at it and despite this involuntarily working for them in their lone win of the series they maintained that they were built to run with anyone. Last night they echoed this mantra and it almost paid off.
At the helm of this was none other than LeBron James. In another masterwork James tallied 41 points on 19 of 30 shooting, grabbed 13 rebounds and tossed 8 assists. James is one of the most heavily criticized figures in sports some of it fair most of it not. But if anyone tries to pin this loss on him it’s not objective, it’s hate. James in the face of elimination conducted himself and lead his with a sense of controlled urgency that is unique to him and is a testament to how this team has been built in his image for better or worse.
Following the leader with impressive showings of their own was the backcourt combination of Kyrie Irving and J.R. “The Pipe” Smith. We’ve seen Irving’s heroics a few times throughout this series but this was Smith’s coming out party and it was truly a shame that it happened on the night their season ended. Kyrie’s 26 points came on 9 of 22 shooting and while it wasn’t his most efficient outing he was able to take advantage of the Dubs D frequently while providing him plenty of opportunities to finish at the hoop. Smith was just feeling it. His 25 points came on a blazing hot 9 of 11 shooting and 7 of 8 from three. He also added two blocks to show he wasn’t asleep on that end also. After that the only other Cavs that scored in double figures was Tristan “TrashGawd” Thompson-Kardashian with an efficient 15 and 8 on 6 of 8 shooting.
Scoring wasn’t the problem here (120 points isn’t bad). Hell efficiency wasn’t the problem (Cavs shot 51% from the floor and 46% from deep). Plain and simple, it was defense. Sure they could’ve gotten more from Kevin Love (6 points on 2 of 8) and they definitely could have used more from their bench (but let’s be real they’ve been more or less a non-factor all series). There’s really no way to get around this, they ran into the one team they couldn’t run off of the court and it showed. As the game intensified the cracks in the facade started to show. Getting caught on screens, always ceding on switches creating mismatches that Golden State consistently converted on and just plain ol’ falling asleep and letting their guy slip to the basket for layup drills. This is a well comprised team that has played near flawlessly on on end of the floor so well that they made it all the way to the NBA Finals.
It just stopped working. And sometimes in sport as well as in life things work for you until they just don’t. The Cavaliers have a lot to consider in the off-season but defense will be a priority I assume. Them and the 28 other teams now have a few short months to address how to fix their shortcomings to wrest control of the NBA back from the Golden State Warriors. And that’s the beauty of the NBA y’all. The healing starts immediately. For the Cavaliers I imagine this hurts more for then than anyone but they will have to harness that pain to return better than they are in their current form. They’ve done it before, let’s see if they can do it again.