Golden State Warriors – 129
Cleveland Cavaliers – 120
It’s hard to appreciate at the end of a disappointing season, but the Cavaliers’ squad of the last three years will likely go down as one of Cleveland fans’ very favorite teams of all time. LeBron James’ return and the subsequent trade for Kevin Love ushered in an era of winning that, if we’re honest, was fairly unprecedented in Cleveland. The image of Kyrie Irving’s game-winning shot in last year’s Finals, or of a shirtless J.R. Smith at the championship parade will be ones that won’t be forgotten for a long time, if ever. But those images felt ancient on Monday night, as the Cavaliers’ season came to an end, falling 129-120 and losing the NBA Finals 4-1 to the Golden State Warriors. With the fate of General Manager David Griffin uncertain and the constant pressure that James puts on the team to compete for championships, it’s possible this was the last run of the core as we have come to know it.
The Cavaliers came out strong, jumping out to a 20-12 lead early in the first and then extending the lead to eight again in the second with ten minutes remaining. From there, the Warriors hit them with a massive 30-8 run, burying the Cavaliers in elite playmaking and defense. When the Warriors are rolling, there’s no answer. You can pick at the Cavaliers’ defense and point to individual mistakes, but in the end, the Warriors’ collection of talent and the decisions they force a defense to make are simply too much.
When you lose a series 4-1 and most of the losses aren’t close, it’s hard to point at the ‘what ifs.” In Game 5, James broke away from a dunk and was hit in the face by Kevin Durant with no foul call. The foul would’ve been Durant’s third and likely forced him to the bench.
After what should have been KD's third foul, he had 13 points and the Warriors outscored the Cavs, 38-19, in the final 10:14 of the half.
— Josh Poloha (@JorshP) June 13, 2017
This doesn’t mean the refs were bias against Cleveland or cost them the game. There are dozens of missed calls every game. This one came back to bite the Cavaliers.
James was fantastic because No. 23 IS fantastic. He scored 41 points on 30 shots, adding 13 rebounds and eight assists. He is truly a marvel and a joy to watch every night. The fact that the Cavaliers pushed this loaded Warriors team in the last three games is a testament to his greatness. It hurts to watch a James season end without a ring, but it is still incredible to watch the King wear your colors.
The Warriors got fantastic showings from Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. Durant scored 39 points on only 20 shots and seemed to make a twisting, contested shot every time the Cavaliers were able to cut their lead to a manageable distance. He certainly left the impression that the Warriors needed him more than he needed the Warriors. Curry had a slow start but ended with 34 points and 10 assists. He was able to play off of Durant’s greatness and sprinkle in big shots when needed. Two MVPs on one team is a tough matchup.
The Cavaliers didn’t go without a fight. After a tie-up for the ball between the Warriors’ David West and Cavaliers’ Irving, tempers flared. West shoved Irving and Smith and Tristan Thompson immediately came to their teammates’ aid. West, Smith, and Thompson were assessed technical fouls.
J.R. Smith did everything he could in this one. I’ve harped on this previously, but Smith should be a cult hero in Cleveland for as long as he lives. It was his quick scoring spurt in Game 7 of last year’s Finals that brought the Cavs back into the game. It was Smith that highlighted the parade and weeks of celebration after. Smith battled injuries and unthinkable personal heartache to still remain one of the Cavaliers’ key components throughout the playoffs this year. It was his shotmaking in this game that kept the Cavaliers in it, scoring 25 points on 11 shots, going 7-8 from three-point range.
And now the questions mount. General Manager David Griffin remains unsigned. The bench is old or mediocre, including Richard Jefferson, Kyle Korver, Deron Williams, Channing Frye, James Jones, Dahntay Jones, and Derrick Williams. Only Jefferson and Frye are under contract next year. There’s also the bigger question of trading a larger piece in an effort to get better. LeBron James knows the Cavs need more firepower to compete, and there’s only so many avenues to acquire that talent. Be prepared for Kevin Love trade rumors to again populate the sports media world.
But those are questions for another day. Let’s look behind the box score at Game 5:
42 – Rebounds for Golden State compared to 40 for the Cavaliers. The Cavs were simply unable to rebound at a high rate all series, and it let Golden State have too many scoring opportunities.
6 – Points for Kevin Love, who was awful in this game. Love had found ways to impact every game before this, with his rebounding in Game 1, scoring in Game 2, defense in Game 3, and shooting in Game 4. He impacted Game 5 as well, but not in a positive way.
29 – Points averaged by Kyrie Irving in the NBA Finals. Irving is incredible, and as he enters the prime of his career we’ll hopefully see him find the consistency and passing that could launch him into MVP conversations.
1 – Championship already won by this Cavs team. And no matter how bad this loss hurt, Game 7 of last year’s Finals is still available on iTunes for $2.99. Download it. Watch it. Get ready for next year. Because the Cavaliers still have LeBron James, and they’ll be back.