Golden State Warriors 108, Cleveland Cavaliers 85
Series: Golden State wins, 4-0
CLEVELAND — The Golden State Warriors were the prohibitive favorites to win a second straight NBA championship. After completing a four-game sweep in the Finals, they showed 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 Warriors produced seven steals and 13 blocks while defending and 14 three-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 three-pointers, 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’s final home game for Cleveland, with free agency looming this summer.
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 has happened only six other times in NBA history — the last 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’ victory felt more like a relief after a long slog of a season, a result long expected and predicted before the season tipped off.
The weight of expectations has hung over this team from the moment the Warriors added Kevin Durant to a team that won an NBA-record 73 games but lost in the Finals two years ago.
Durant’s arrival propelled the Warriors forward a year ago. They cruised to 67 wins, then looked utterly dominant in posting a 16-1 record in the postseason, losing only Game 4 of the NBA Finals to the Cavaliers en route to the title.
This season, though, things were far different. Golden State suffered a rash of injuries. All four of their all-stars missed at least nine games, with Curry sitting for 37 — including six playoff games. Looking as if 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. Fourth-quarter collapses in Games 4 and 5 of the Western Conference finals allowed Houston to take a 3-2 lead in the series and moved 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, and 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. Despite the sweep, Cleveland gave Golden State a stiffer test than expected — going to overtime in Game 1, which included a memorable gaffe by the Cavaliers’ J.R. Smith in the final moments of regulation, and forcing an all-time performance from Durant for the Warriors to pull out Game 3 — but the series had a sense of inevitability to all but the most die-hard of Cavaliers fans.
Now the focus shifts to the summer, which promises to be eventful for both teams. Golden State brought back 12 of the same 15 players from last year’s title team this year, but there probably will be significantly more turnover — retooling — this summer despite their continued dominance.
The summer in Cleveland, meanwhile, will be consumed with the status of James, whose next move surely will impact the entire NBA.
When the game ended, James — who congratulated the Warriors on the court as he went to the bench for the last time — walked straight down the tunnel to the locker room, stopping only 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 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.