It took almost all of the 48 minutes to decide the NBA Champion. In the end, the Cleveland Cavaliers outlasted the Golden State Warriors 93-89 in game seven of the NBA Finals, winning their first title in franchise history. The Cavs become the first team in NBA history to comeback from a three games to one deficit to win the Finals series. The game was a dogfight, with both teams shooting poorly, along with numerous ties and lead changes.
A tug-of-war in Oakland
In a series defined by blowouts in the previous six games, the final meeting between Cleveland and Golden State featured 20 lead changes and 11 ties. Whenever one team began to make a run, the other hit a big shot to shift the momentum. The largest lead for either team in the game was eight for the Warriors, after Klay Thompson’s corner two with 10:33 left in the third. Cleveland quickly closed the gap with two consecutive threes from J.R. Smith. No team led by more than seven the rest of the way.
Neither team shot well through the game’s entirety. The Western Conference champions shot only 39 percent from the field. The Warriors fared better from three-point territory, making 36 percent from long distance. Cleveland shot slightly better, making 40 percent of their shots. The Eastern Conference champs fared much worse from downtown, converting only 24 percent, with many of Cleveland’s long range shots being open looks. The Cavs did not make a three until 7:01 in the second when Iman Shumpert nailed a shot from deep, which became a four-point play. Cleveland then put the clamps down on last year's NBA champions, holding the highest scoring team per game and per 100 possessions to just 13 points in the fourth quarter.
Cleveland played aggressively throughout, holding a decided advantage at the free-throw line (21-25 compared to 10-13 for the Warriors). The Cavs outrebounded the Warriors 48-39. The new NBA champs dominated the paint as well, outscoring Golden State inside 48-28. Cleveland made a concerted effort to attack the Warriors in the absence of Andrew Bogut.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr started Festus Ezeli for rim protection. The backup center only played 11 minutes and Cleveland exposed him a number of times on the perimeter, particularly when switched on LeBron James. James drew a foul on Ezeli late in the fourth quarter with a pump fake and seconds later made a three in his face to take an 89-87 lead.
The King and Kyrie bring it home
The Finals MVP turned in another sterling performance to help secure the NBA crown for his hometown team, playing all but one minute. The Akron, Ohio native led the Cavs with 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. With his efforts, James becomes only the third player in league history to record a triple-double in and NBA Finals game, the last to do so was Hall of Famer James Worthy in 1988.
Nothing better exemplified James’ desire to bring home the Larry O’Brien Trophy than his chase down block on Andre Iguodala’s fast break layup to keep the game tied with 1:50 remaining in regulation. James once again took advantage of Golden State’s smaller lineups with constant drives to the rim, although the four-time MVP looked to pass more often than in the last two games.
Kyrie Irving turned in another great game, scoring 26 points on 10-23 shooting, along with six rebounds. The former number one overall pick’s biggest basket came with 53 seconds left in the game. With Stephen Curry defending, Irving created space with his dribble and buried his second three of the game to give his team the lead for good.
Smith was the only other Cav to reach double figures, finishing with 12. The former Sixth Man of the Year only went 2-8 from three, but the threes tied the game when Golden State appeared ready to go on a run.
Kevin Love impacted the game with his rebounding, grabbing 14 boards, four off the offensive glass, with nine points.
Green shines, Splash Bros. struggle
Draymond Green led Golden State in scoring, rebounding, and assists while playing almost every minute. The former Michigan State Spartan finished with 32 points, 15 boards, and nine dimes, though 22 of his points came in the first half. Green shot 11-15 from the field and 6-8 from three, the only Warrior to shoot efficiently.
Curry finished with 17 points on 6-19 shooting, 4-14 from three, two assists and five turnovers. The back-to-back league MVP missed the potential game-tying three with Love switched on him with 30 left in regulation. Curry’s disappointing performance caps off an underwhelming series for the former Davidson standout.
Curry’s “Splash Brother” did not play much better. Klay Thompson scored 14 points on 6-17 shooting and 2-10 from three.
Harrison Barnes finished with 10 points on 3-10 shooting, though he did shoot 2-4 from long distance, in possibly his last game in a Warriors jersey. Barnes had a rough series as he heads into restricted free agency.
What to look for
All eyes are on the future stars of the NBA, as the 2016 Draft takes place this Thursday.