By Frank Pingue
The Golden State Warriors capped a brilliant season with a 105-97 victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers late on Tuesday to win the NBA Finals for the first time in 40 years.
The Warriors, the top-seeded team in the playoffs after compiling the best record in the regular season, won the best-of-seven championship series 4-2.
NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Andre Iguodala, who had not started all season until Game Four of the Finals, and Stephen Curry each had 25 points for Golden State, while James again led the way for the injury-hit Cavaliers with a game-high 32 points.
“I’ve seen this on TV so many times, dreaming about what it would be like to pour champagne on yourself and when that moment comes and I’m holding the trophy, champagne is falling on my face, that’s when it all sinks in that this is real,” said Curry.
“Best champagne I’ve ever had in my life.”
Golden State became the first team since the 1991 Chicago Bulls to win the NBA title with a roster absent of any previous finals experience.
For James, who averaged 35.8 points per game, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the Finals despite playing with an injury-hit team, the loss dropped the greatest player of his generation to 2-4 all-time in the NBA’s championship series.
“When you fall short, it hurts and it eats at you, and it hurts me to know that I wish I could have done better and done more and just put a little more effort or whatever the case may be to help us get over the hump,” said James.
“But it just wasn’t our time.”
Having trailed by 13 points late, the Cavaliers pulled to within four in the final minute, reigniting a home crowd that had been silenced moments earlier, but the Warriors held firm to clinch the title.
In the end, injuries to All Star point guard Kyrie Irving and forward Kevin Love were too much for the Cavs to overcome.
“We never asked for sympathy when they went down. We never made an excuse, and I certainly won’t do that now,” said Cavs coach David Blatt.
“We played our hearts out. The Warriors were better. Those guys will get healthy, and we’ll come back after it next season.”
Cleveland opened the game with a 7-2 run to whip an anxious home crowd into a frenzy but Golden State weathered the storm with a solid finish to the opening quarter to build a 28-15 lead.
After a quiet start to the game, James helped Cleveland narrow the gap with a three-pointer from the corner as part of his team’s 11-4 run to open the second quarter.
Cleveland, despite a slew of turnovers, battled mightily throughout the second before finally cutting the deficit to two points when Tristan Thompson slammed down a put-back dunk as time expired in the first half.
The Cavaliers carried momentum into the early moments of the second half where they moved in front for the first time since early in the game but the Warriors responded brilliantly with an 8-0 run that forced the Cavaliers to call a timeout.
Golden State, powered by Iguodala, then built a game-high 15-point lead with a minute left in the third.
The Cavaliers came out hard in the fourth quarter and showed they were ready for a fight when James forced a turnover before racing down the court for a dunk. His basket capped an 8-0 run that put Cleveland within seven points with 10 minutes to play.
But from there the Warriors used a barrage of three-pointers to hold the Cavaliers, who were largely undone by 19 turnovers in the game.
“To win a title there’s obviously a lot of work, but a lot of luck as well, and we had a lot of luck on our side this year,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “And our guys took advantage of it, and they were fantastic.
“But man, what a night.”
By Frank Pingue