Somewhere right now, Joakim Noah is furious that Cleveland is getting to celebrate their first major sport championship in over 50 years. But yet, the city that is known for their river catching on fire is now free of the curse that has loomed over Cleveland just like the Lil B curse still looms over Kevin Durant and the Thunder. LeBron James has finally won one for “The Land”, and all of his past discretions seem to have been forgiven.
With every comeback story, though, there is a team that has to live with the heartbreak of defeat, knowing that they had a championship well within their grasp. These Golden State Warriors were a shell of themselves in the second half of this series; Harrison Barnes’ shooting stroke went MIA, Iguodala was hobbled and Draymond Green seemed to be the only guy who left it all out on the court Sunday night. Steph was especially abominable, compared to what we came to expect from the unanimous MVP this season. Even though neither him or anyone in the Warriors organization said it outright, Steph was never at 100% after tweaking his MCL, and it was never more readily apparent than when we witnessed Kevin Love shuffle his feet quick enough to stay in front of Steph during the last minute of Game 7. This matchup was exactly what the Warriors wanted, a slow-footed big man left to guard the greatest shooter in NBA history. But this time Love didn’t end up looking like Steven Adams in the WCF, instead he kept close to Curry for almost the entirety of the shot clock, forcing a contested 3 that ultimately sealed the deal for the Cavs. A healthy Steph in that situation probably makes Love looks silly, but that MCL injury made Curry human in this year’s Finals, and because of that we got to see Kevin Love rocking a Stone Cold Steve Austin shirt and WWE title belt.
The final two minutes of this game felt like a culmination of the Cavaliers team that LeBron James the GM built these past two seasons. After what seemed like an eternity of scoreless basketball, the Warriors seemed poised to grab a 2 point lead, starting a 2-on-1 fast break with only JR Smith back on defense. Just when Oracle Arena was about to explode, LeBron James took all the air out of the building with one of the greatest defensive plays in NBA history, next to Larry Bird’s steal from Isiah Thomas in the ’87 Finals. Following up LeBron, Kyrie drained the biggest shot of his life with no hesitation, right in Steph Curry’s face, sending Clevelandites (Clevelanders?) into a frenzy. Then, just as we thought Kevin Love was going to end up as the donkey of the game yet again, he rose to the occasion and guarded the MVP like his life depended on it.
This victory did not start and end with the Big 3, though, far from it. The punchline of this past year’s free agency, Tristan Thompson, proved he was well worth that $82 million dollar contract and whatever Dan Gilbert paid in luxury taxes to keep him in Cleveland. He was an absolute monster on the boards, and without Bogut, Ezeli losing the trust of Steve Kerr, and Draymond having to guard LeBron, Thompson feasted on Cavs’ misses. Even more importantly, his versatility to be able to switch onto any of the Warriors’ guards and defend them competently was what allowed the Cavaliers to execute their switches on pick & rolls effectively, and grabbing a Thompson-esque player has become a top priority for any contender vying to best the Warriors this upcoming season.
I never thought I’d see the day, but JR Smith completely swung this game in favor of the Cavs. His two consecutive 3-pointers brought Cleveland right back into the game, and if JR hadn’t caught fire for just that minute-stretch, we were a Curry or Thompson three away from seeing the Warriors run away with the game.
Speaking of the unexpected, Ty Lue’s coaching prowess was a pleasant surprise. He managed and adjusted his lineups incredibly well, even having the situational awareness to give Channing Frye’s minutes to Richard Jefferson (Happy Retirement RJ) and Tristan Thompson, understanding the importance of having defensive versatility versus Warriors’ lineups that most times didn’t feature a player over 6’8″. Though I disagreed with making David Blatt the sacrificial lamb, it ultimately worked out, and Ty Lue now can be known as an NBA champion head coach, instead of the poor bastard that Allen Iverson crossed up and stepped over.
On the other side for Steve Kerr and the Warriors, questions remain heading into their offseason: do they pay to keep Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli, or clear space to make a run at Kevin Durant or another impact player? All signs point to bringing the band back together, but with a very dangerous OKC Thunder breathing down their neck, Golden State might feel enough pressure to make a bold move. Either way, we’ll be sure to see plenty of heavyweight bouts between the Thunder and the Warriors for years to come.
With the draft this week and free agency around the corner, the offseason is already off to a running start. But for now the sentiment still remains, the Cleveland Cavaliers have broken their city’s curse, and maybe just for a night, Cleveland was cool.