This was a team known for great finishes, and the last one was the best of all. After four decades of mostly heartbreak and apathy, the Golden State Warriors became champions in Cleveland, Ohio. It was an effort that represented perfectly what this team was throughout this magical and dominant season. The defense led the way, the depth was an unstoppable force, and the night ended with the Warriors hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy after a 105-97 win in Game 6.
It seems wrong to spend too much time focusing on one particular player. Stephen Curry is the league MVP, the guy who pulled defensive attention away from everyone else. Draymond Green is the heartbeat, and he punctuated his breakthrough season with a triple-double. Andre Iguodala was the key free agent who went from starter to role reserve to NBA Finals MVP. There’s also Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Shaun Livingston, David Lee, Mo Speights, Klay Thompson …
Klay: “It just feels good to say we’re the best team in the world with the best player in the world.” Steph: “Appreciate it, man.”
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) June 17, 2015
This is a team. And at the risk of sounding like a sap, it’s a beautiful team. There’s a reason why they appealed to basketball watchers young and old, and even to people who didn’t think they liked the sport. They share the ball, with the precision and flair of dancers at times. They defend, something the Warriors never did until a few years ago and took to an inconceivably great level this year. Both their offensive and defensive schemes represent the future of the NBA — and hopefully, basketball as a whole. And the players, coaches and executives genuinely like each other, which made tonight’s champagne celebration that much sweeter.
“We had the No. 1 defense in the league. We had the highest scoring team in the league. We were No. 1 in assists. We were No. 1 in field goal percentage defense. When you get that combination, then you’re going to be pretty good. Whether you’re shooting threes or twos, it’s about the balance,” said Steve Kerr.
“Our team, because of our depth and our talent, we were able to do that, and it turned into a special season as a result.”
If this was the third or fourth championship for a team that was already considered a dynasty, it’d still be a great story. However, the true beauty here is that the Warriors were a joke of a franchise for so, so long. Clippers North. And tonight they exerted their will on LeBron James and the Cavaliers, pummeling their fourth playoff opponent much the same way they vanquished their previous three. They felt the Cavs out for a few games, figured out how to go for the kill, and systematically destroyed them to the point where a Golden State triumph seemed inevitable from Game 4 on.
It wasn’t easy, however. The road team started with its best, most complete quarter of the Finals, silencing Quicken Loans Arena with a 28-15 lead heading into the second quarter, despite clanking a lot of open looks in the opening minutes. The defense was ferocious, as one would expect from a team that tasted blood and played the game with such cruel efficiency on the road throughout these playoffs.
Yet the Warriors lost their shooting touch completely in the second quarter (27%), and a little bit of that defensive fire as well, and the Cavs brought “THE DIFF” (the scoreboard here at “The Q” actually shows the point differential with that title, as if their fans can’t do basic math) to just -2: 45-43.
Out came the defense again to start the third quarter. Iguodala and Ezeli dunked, Barnes and Green made threes, and the Warriors collected four steals early in the quarter to knock the Cavaliers back on their heels. The Cavs would keep it close in the fourth quarter thanks to J.R. Smith prayer-threes and some missed free throws, but they never fully recovered.
The clinching moment
With about four minutes left I headed downstairs, and settled in about 12 rows behind the Cavaliers’ bench in a row at least 10 fans had vacated. The game seemed like it would never end, which was only right with this franchise, which no one thought had a chance to win anything of consequence throughout my entire life. But with every last Cleveland gasp, the Warriors answered with a stop, a rebound or a made free throw to keep them at bay, and finally after James was removed from the game, the Bay was able to celebrate.
It was perfect that the two guys pictured at the top of this story both had 25 points. But for Curry and Iguodala, that only scratched the surface of their many accomplishments throughout this series. Even in his poorer efforts, Curry made things so much easier for everyone else, and he effectively clinched the series when his 17-point fourth quarter erased James’ last stand in Game 5.
Iguodala was named MVP not just because he made the Cavs pay for their strategy of guarding him with Timofey Mozgov (David Blatt probably knew that he’d be roasted all summer if he lost the last two games going small, so Mozgov played 33 minutes). His defense against a tired James (who went 13-for-33, but was still able to score 32 points, grab 18 rebounds and dish out 9 assists) was as fundamentally sound and effective as we’ve seen all series, much like his performance in Game 5 against James Harden.
“Guarding LeBron James has to be the hardest job in basketball,” said Kerr.
“Exhausting. Exhausting. More mentally than anything,” Iguodala said.
“Just thinking about it every single day, during practice, after practice, at night when I sleep. My nap, I had no nap today. I usually get a nap, and I couldn’t sleep because I just kept thinking about the game and what do I need to do to win, how to guard LeBron.”
General Manager Bob Myers voiced a similar thought, how he’s had this knot of tension inside him for so long. He said he asked Kerr before today’s game when that ball of stress finally goes away, and Kerr told him it vanishes right now, with this win, this title. So for Iguodala, Curry, Myers and the rest of this great team, it’s time to rest — then enjoy a parade — then rest a little more. It’s been a long journey, but they’ve been the best team in the NBA throughout and now they bring the Larry O’Brien trophy home to Oakland.