The 40-year wait is over for the Golden State Warriors, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 105-97 in game 6 of the NBA Finals to win the championship. Stephen Curry was great but Andre Iguodala picked up the Finals MVP while LeBron James stayed with the amazing numbers, but more disappointment in a situation he knows about very well.
James scored 32 points but ran out of fuel and steam in the fourth quarter, missing open shots as the Cavaliers were desperately trying to get back and even managing to narrow the lead back down to four points in the final minute of the game, after the Warriors had already opened a 15-point lead. He also added 18 rebounds and 9 assists to finish as the series leader for both teams in points, rebounds and assists. But when one player does all that and the team can’t last a minute without him (James rested one minute actually), it’s never a good sign.
The Warriors didn’t start well, but after the Cavaliers had an 8-3 lead, the Warriors started running and ended the first quarter up by 13 points. The Cavaliers didn’t lead again until early in the second half, taking a 47-45 lead. As always, the Warriors answered with two 3-pointers, and never looked back. Their offense never sizzled in this series but their defense, especially when Iguodala was on the floor, made all the difference.
It’s interesting what won the series for the Warriors. Defense. Without Andrew Bogut, perhaps their most important defensive player in the regular season. Without Klay Thompson, who had an awful series and seemed to be like weights on the legs of the team during his time on the floor in game 6, leaving the game with six fouls. The inclusion of Shaun Livingston and Iguodala, giving them bigger roles, meant turning this series back around.
Maybe it was going to happen anyway. The Cavaliers, without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, were seriously handicapped. No one showed up for more than one or two games except for James, which forced him to try and do too much. Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson did their job in the paint and David Blatt didn’t regret using Mozgov this time, but the rest of the Cavaliers? J.R. Smith scored 19 points but it was until garbage time began that he remembered to start hitting shots. Maybe James should have left some 3’s for him in the final seconds, as it was quite clear he was way off the mark on this night. The Cavaliers shot just 23.1% from long range, including a lot of open shots missed. James went 2-of-10, Shumpert 0-for-3, James Jones 0-for-4. That’s a whole big difference against the Warriors, shooting a tad below 40% this time.
Are the Warriors a historically great champion? They won the league wire-to-wire, never having a crisis during the regular season, and more importantly never having to deal with injuries. That’s part of the equation, and you can’t hold it against them, nor the fact that they played a handicapped Cavaliers team. As for their place in history? The great championship teams are remembered only when it’s more than a one time thing. More finals, more championships. Right now, this has the feeling of something great that can last and be more than a one time thing, but in today’s NBA, keeping great rosters together is far from easy.
And the Cavaliers? If LeBron James and Kevin Love stick around, there should be no problem doing this well and maybe better next season. In the East, they are by far the best team. Obviously, there are some free agents that needed dealing with but bad luck, more than anything, stood between the Cavaliers and making this series more competitive. There’s no reason to break up the package now, because the immediate future does look very bright.