Cavaliers edge Warriors to complete greatest comeback
LeBron James delivered one of his mightiest all-around performances Sunday and the Cleveland Cavaliers completed the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history, dethroning defending champion Golden State 93-89 to capture their first league title.
The Cavaliers were the first club to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win the best-of-seven series, giving Cleveland its first major sports champion since the 1964 NFL Browns and ending the longest such title drought for any American city.
“Cleveland, this is for you,” a tearful James screamed on the court after the frantic final seconds.
James scored 27 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and passed off 11 assists — only the third “triple double” in a finals seventh game — to take the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award for the third time in his career, humbling a Warriors team that won a record 73 regular-season games.
“We were able to put together some spectacular games down 3-1,” James said. “This is special. I kept that positive attitude. I don’t know why we had to take the hard road. Against all odds.” “King” James made good on the promise he made to his hometown after returning in 2014 from Miami, the city he left for in 2010 to learn how to become a champion, leaving behind fans who felt betrayed and some who burned replica James’ jerseys.
“For us to be able to end this drought, our fans deserve it. And it was for them,” James said. “To continue to be an inspiration to our city means everything.” James, 3-3 in six consecutive finals appearances, led the series with 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists a game plus more than two steals and two blocked shots a game — the greatest all-around numbers ever produced with a crown on the line.
Golden State suffered the worst choke in NBA Finals history after the winningest campaign in league history. The Warriors had not lost three games in a row since 2013.
“It sucks. It hurts to lose when you had a 3-1 lead,” said Draymond Green, who led the Warriors with 32 points.
“It’ll sting me for a while. It’s supposed to sting. I’m not over the loss. I’ll probably never be over that. It will sting for a while, but it’s fuel.” Only two other clubs down 3-1 in the finals had ever forced a seventh game, none in 50 years until now. Cleveland was only the fourth road winner in 19 NBA Finals seventh games, the first since Washington captured the 1978 title in Seattle.
Kyrie Irving added 26 points, including the crucial 3-pointer with 52 seconds remaining to give Cleveland the lead for good, while J.R. Smith had 12 points and Kevin Love had nine points and 14 rebounds.
James made three free throws and added a 3-pointer to give the Cavaliers an 89-87 lead, but Klay Thompson’s layup lifted the Warriors level with 4:39 to play.
The teams each went six possessions without scoring after that, tension mounting as time and again they thwarted each other until Irving’s 3-pointer.
“It was 89-89 it felt like for three days and it was really only probably a minute and a half,” Smith said. “The way we fought and everything we worked for and this year was bottled down to a minute and a half. So we had to buckle down. Fortunately we got stops and Kyrie just had a hell of a shot.” After another Cavaliers’ stop, James was fouled by Green as he tried for a clinching slam dunk. Instead, he made a free throw to produce the final margin and the Warriors could only watch the celebration begin.
“It was a hell of a grind,” Irving said. “The odds — it was 92% to eight%. Vegas said it couldn’t be done. Everyone in the world said it couldn’t be done. I’m thankful. I’m truly humbled.” The game featured 20 lead changes and was tied 11 times. Each team managed its biggest lead in the third quarter, neither ahead by more than eight after six games where the final margin was in double digits.
“I could never imagine it was going to be this sweet, but it’s a great feeling,” said Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson.
NBA scoring leader Steph Curry had 17 points while fellow Warriors 3-point sharpshooter Thompson managed only 14.
“It stung,” Curry said. “It sucked to watch them celebrate and we wish that would have been us, but at the end of the day, you congratulate them for accomplishing what they set out to do.” The winner-take-all showdown captured the attention of US President Barack Obama, who watched the end on Air Force One after returning from a family trip and tweeted, “What a game and what a series for the cavs. Happy to see KingJames bring it home for Cleveland!“