“Better late than never.” It’s an expression that’s relevant not only to my writing of this blog post, but also to the Cavaliers’ comeback from being down 3-1 and their late-game play in Game 7.
The Finals feel like a distant memory. After all, Game 1 was over a month ago and the two teams don’t even have the same rosters anymore–Delly is a Milwaukee Buck, Mosgov got paid by the Lakers, and the Warriors signed some guy named Kevin Durant, among other changes. The draft happened and we are in the thick of summer league. But before we get too caught up in the moment, let’s take a minute to recap the end of the season and the BSB(R) in all of its glory (or sadness, if you are a Warriors fan).
As always, we’ll start with the final BSB(R) table:
Going into the Finals, we knew this year’s BSB(R) was going to come down to a battle between two heavyweights–Michael Hall and myself. Over the past couple years, a budding rivalry between us has developed on the hardwood. Not basketball’s hardwood, mind you, but rather that of of Michigan’s racquetball courts and of my dining room table where Catan gets settled.
Mike won with 72 points, but his victory wasn’t without battle scars. Going into Game 7, we knew that Mike would win BSB(R) with a Cavs victory, and we’d tie if the Warriors had won. However, the plot thickens when you consider that Mike is an avid Warriors fan and that I was rooting for the Cavs. The Cavs won, giving Mike the BSB(R) victory and a positive nudge in his rivalry with me. Behind Mike was Bernie “Cousy” Chovitz (71), David Gold (70), and myself (70). As a reminder, of the 18 people to correctly predict a Cavs-Warriors Final, not a single person picked the Cavs. Part of me wonders if LeBron used the BSB(R) predictions as a secret motivation during this year’s championship run.
Mike’s victory will net him a prize and the opportunity to write a guest post here at AGR, which I expect to an analysis of the Warriors’ season through the lens of moral psychology.
Below, AGR recaps the NBA Finals. And while reading is fun, I also suggest you take a look at the epic mini-movies that the NBA produces for each game (Game 1, Game 2, Game 3, Game 4, Game 5, Game 6, Game 7)
NBA Finals Recap
In the much anticipated rematch of last year’s Finals–this time with a healthy Cavs squad and a record-setting Warriors team–it was Warriors who came out swinging. The Dubs handled the Cavs in the first half, with a 9-point lead at the break. But in the third, where the Warriors typically deliver a knockout punch, the Cavs’ starters found a rhythm and put their team up 68-67 with 2:12 in the quarter (resulting in Kerr breaking is clipboard). Just like that, though, the Dubs finished the quarter on a 7-0 run. The game was over as soon as the final period started–the Warriors pushed their lead to 10 and led by double digits the remainder of the game, winning 104-89. Ultimately, the Cavs couldn’t consistently score or defend. And while their Big 3 scored 66 points, it was on 38.3 FG%; the rest of their team was even worse, with J.R. Smith only shooting three times and their bench shooting a combined 3 of 10. The Dubs’ win was a testament to play of their supporting cast, highlighted by Livingston’s 10-point fourth quarter (part of his career playoff-high 20 points) and Barbosa’s 5 of 5 shooting. That Steph and Klay combined for a season-low 20 combined points on 8-27 FG might have indicated that the Cavs were truly toast when the Splash Brothers inevitably turned in on, but instead it foretold the Cavs’ plan to make non-Curry players beat them and of the wear and tear on Steph’s body.
The Cavs had won Game 2 last year and still lost the series, making this game feel like a must win. It felt possible, as LeBron’s teams had won the last nine Game 2s after losing a series opener. And despite Bogut blocking 4 shots in the first eight minutes, that still felt possible–the Cavs had a 6-point lead after a LeBron dunk in traffic with 10:12 to play in the second. From there, though, it was all Golden State, who more or less led by double digits from mid-second quarter until their eventual 110-77 victory. Once again, no one on the Cavs could get it going–even LeBron, who had a near triple-double, finished with only 19 points and 7 turnovers. Making matters worse, Love went out early in the second half after an errant elbow from Barnes caught him in the back of the head. Although Love returned later that game, his prolonged dizziness dictated that he sit out Game 3 in Cleveland. For the Warriors, it was the Draymond Green show–he had a team-high 28 points on 11-20 FG, including five threes. Steph and Klay found a rhythm, but both sat out most of the fourth quarter in light of the blowout.
Going back to Cleveland–Loveless as they were last year–the Cavs knew Game 3 was a must win. Meanwhile, the chatter among fans and analysts alike was whether the Dubs would sweep in light of their dominance in the first two games. Not so fast. The Cavs stormed out to a 21-6 lead in a dominant first-quarter. The Warriors quickly put a dent in their deficit, but still found themselves down 8 at the half. Steph had only 2 points at the break, and while he found a rhythm in the second half, it was all Cavs from there on out. The highlight of the game–and one of the top plays in the series and in LeBron’s career–was the ultimate blow. LeBron stole the ball from Curry, and despite stumbling, managed to get the ball to Kyrie on the break. Kyrie threw the ball in the vague vicinity the basket, where LBJ emerged to throw down a full-extension, cock-back alley-oop. As the third quarter ended, another message was sent: Steph casually went up for a layup well after play had stopped on a foul call, but LeBron blocked him anyway. With 30+ point games from LeBron and Kyrie, J.R. Smith showing signs of life, relentless energy from Tristan Thompson, and impressive play from Richard Jefferson, the Cavs won 120-90. The Warriors stars just couldn’t get it going–Barnes and Iggy were their only players who didn’t underperform. The stage was set for a monumental Game 4.
Game 4 was close throughout–no team had led by more than 8 going to the fourth, when the Warriors led by 2. But after the Cavs went up 83-81 with 10:18 to play after LeBron’s tip-slam, the Warriors went on a pivotal 12-1 run. The Warriors’ team basketball and MVP was on full display during the fourth, while the Cavs resorted to ineffective hero ball from James and Irving–LBJ and Uncle Drew took 33 of Cleveland’s 38 shots in the second half. Kevin Love returned, but also came off the bench for the first time since 2010; he never found a rhythm, going for just 11 points and 5 boards. The Splash brothers finally came to play, scoring a combined 63 points with 11 threes between them. Barnes stayed hot, too, going 4-5 from deep. Curry’s three to push the lead from 7 to 10 with 3:23 to play proved to be the fatal blow in the Warriors’ 108-97 win.
The Warriors were poised to close out the series in Oakland except for one issue: a late game scuffle between LeBron and Draymond resulted in a retroactive flagrant against Green (and a technical against James), causing an automatic suspension for Green. James physically posted up against Green on the perimeter, putting him on the ground in the process. LBJ proceeded to step over Draymond. Perceiving this as a sign of disrespect, Draymond retaliated by taking a nut-shot at LeBron as he recovered. From there, jawing ensued, with Green repeatedly calling LeBron “a bitch.” The retroactive ruling was controversial, as Green’s flagrant pushed him over the playoff limit. Many thought that Green’s reaction was justified in response to James’ physical play and decision to step over Green; others thought that the magnitude of the Finals should have factored into a more lenient decision. Some even thought the suspension was evidence that the NBA is rigged. Regardless, Green was suspended for Game 5, and it was on the reigning MVP and company to finish business on their home court.
It was an offensive show in the first half of Game 5, highlighted by Klay Thompson’s 26 points, strong play from Kyrie and LeBron, and Shaun Livingston’s baptism of Richard Jefferson–the score was tied 61-61 at the break. But the offensive show continued for the Cavs and died for the Dubs, who shot 7 for 24 in the third. Making matters worse, Bogut went down with a knee injury early in the second half–he wouldn’t return for the rest of the series. Most of the Cavs also struggled; Love, for instance, reassumed his starting role, but shot 1-5 with 2 points and 3 rebounds. But LeBron and Kyrie continued to go off, becoming the first teammates to score 40+ points in a a Finals game (each had 41 points) and leading their team to a 112-97 victory with their second-half play. Kyrie was a bucket machine (17-24 FG; 5-7 3pt), hitting tough shot after tough shot. LeBron was less efficient (16-30 FG; 4-8 3pt), comparatively, but had an impressive all-around game that included 16 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 blocks, and 3 steals. Unsurprisingly, Green’s presence was missed.
Back in Cleveland after their convincing victory in Game 5, the Cavs were feeling as confident as ever despite facing another elimination game. Still, someone would have to rise to the occasion as James and Irving did so miraculously in Game 5. As he often seems to do, James answered the call of duty. The Cavs came out of the gates swinging, up 31-11 after the first and 59-43 at the half. After extending the lead to 70-46 in the third, the Warriors went on a mini-run capped by Thompson’s 8 straight points in the third quarter’s final 90 seconds, cutting the lead to 80-71 going into the fourth. That’s when LeBron James stole the show. LBJ scored the first 10 points of the quarter for the Cavs, part of a stretch where LeBron had a 35 of 36 Cavalier points. When all was said and done, the game was one of LeBron’s finest–he defended, distributed, rebounded, scored prolifically and efficiently, and didn’t commit turnovers. Meanwhile, Curry fouled out (thanks to some dubious calls), leading to his departure with 4:22 to play and a thrown mouthguard that accidentally hit a fan. The Cavs 115-101 victory meant the world would get what it had been waiting for since opening night–a Game 7 rematch between the Cavs and Warriors.
Unlike the other contests, Game 7 was neck and neck throughout. The Warriors had a hot Draymond Green, who score 21 first half points including five three-pointers. As had been true the entire series, the Cavs were getting their scoring from LeBron and Irving. As the first half came to a close, the Warriors gained a bit of separation to go up 49-42 thanks to their 10 first half three pointers. In the third, the Cavs quickly closed the gap and took their own 7-point lead, in large part due to Kyrie’s 12-point third quarter. Going into the fourth, the Warriors led 76-75. The final quarter of the season didn’t disappoint. The teams started off more or less trading epic baskets–there was Kyrie tipping in his own shot, epic threes from James and Curry, and a strong drive from Draymond Green. Klay’s layup with 4:39 to go tied the game at 89-89. Following that basket, the world was treated to nearly four minutes of scoreless basketball. One reason? LeBron’s clutch chase-down block on Iguodala. The game remained scoreless until Kyrie’s knockout three in Curry’s face with 53 seconds to play. It was Uncle Drew at his finest. The following possession, the Warriors tried to get Curry a pick-and-roll and a mismatch. They got what they wanted, but Kevin Love managed to dance with Curry all the way until his contested three missed. After the Cavs rebounded the ball, Irving darted up the court and had his layup attempt blocked, but was fouled as he recovered the ball. Upon resuming play, Irving drove to the hoop and found a cutting James, who got fouled while attempting a monster slam over Draymond Green with 10.6 seconds left. Despite being shaken up with a hurt wrist, James made 1 of 2 free throws, effectively putting the game out of reach. Curry’s missed three sealed the series’ fate: the Cleveland Cavaliers had won Game 7 93-89 and were NBA champions.
Before I go back to watching Summer League highlights, let me offer a few other quick notes on the series:
- The Cavs’ were the first team in NBA Finals history to come back and win a series after being down 3-1. It was interesting that they did that given that the Warriors had done the same thing just a round earlier with the Thunder.
- LeBron James had his best Finals ever, and perhaps his best-ever playoff series. His defense was at as high of a level as I’ve seen in recent years. The craziest stat of the Finals was that LeBron James became the first player in any playoff series to lead all players in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. Unreal. His performance throughout the series will be remembered as one of the all-time great performances in sports.
- Kyrie Irving can flat-out score. The tricks up his sleeve are endless, and at a certain point you can’t game-plan for the types of shots he makes.
- Kevin Love contributed at times, but his production was by and large missing. If the Cavs want to repeat, they’d be wise to find a way to get him going consistently.
- Tristan Thompson’s energy all series long played an underrated role in the Cavs’ win. He ran the floor, finished the setups he was given, and rebounded like a maniac. Replace all of his minutes with minutes from Mosgov and it’s tough to imagine the Cavs winning more than a single game.
- Iguodala’s defense on LeBron was by and large outstanding. He suffered back spasms as the series went on, which limited him, but Iggy’s ability to strip LeBron and force him into tough situations is second to none in this league.
- Draymond was the best player in the series for the Warriors, particularly in Game 7. His suspension will be debated for decades, but his absence in Game 5’s home loss reinforced the fact that he is one of the game’s greatest players in 2016. What can’t he do?
- The Splash Brothers both had their ups and their downs this series. While they didn’t step up the way superstars need to do in the Finals, it’d be a mistake to say they choked. The Cavs hounded Steph and forced other people to beat them. Still, when you are playing this version of LeBron James in the Finals, good won’t cut it. Steph and Klay had to be consistently great, and they didn’t do that as well as Kyrie and Bron.
Once again, my congratulations and condolences go out to Michael Hall, who won the BSB(R) at the cost of his Warriors losing Game 7.
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