There is less than two minutes remaining in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. Andre Iguodala received a simple bounce pass from Stephen Curry for what seemed to be the momentum changer that would propel Golden State to back-to-back NBA championships. Andre would take two simple steps, lay it in, and put a dagger in Cleveland’s back as Roaracle Arena explodes with joy. Instead, one man by the name of LeBron James said enough was enough. Enough with the city of Cleveland being the butt of the joke for sports pundits. Enough with people who have never played the game questioning his legacy and scrutinizing his Finals performances. Enough with losing. LeBron Raymone James elevated into the air for a thunderous block that not only rocked the backboard, but also rocked the city of Cleveland. Cleveland witnessed their hometown prodigy giving every ounce of his body into delivering the franchise’s first championship ever.
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In all objectiveness, the King had help from his teammates throughout the duration of this game. In a game where LeBron James was not as superhuman as he was in the previous two games, role players and a superstar in the making stepped up to the challenge. Whether it was Iman Shumpert’s four-point play that gave Cleveland the lead in the second quarter, or whether it was Kevin Love’s seven rebounds in the first quarter, timely plays by the “others” on the Cavs squad proved to be impactful. I could also mention Richard Jefferson’s nine rebounds or J.R. Smith’s eight points to begin the third quarter, but none of these contributions could match the performance of Uncle Drew. I still don’t exactly know how Kyrie Irving received his alter ego name, but it seems to fit the bill with the way this man can ball. We all know about Kyrie’s ability to dribble around defenders and make them look silly while he spins midair for ridiculous layups during the regular season, but the enhancement of his skill set during the course of these Finals was riveting. It was absolutely staggering to see his clutch three pointers in the waning moments of Game’s 5 and 7. The same Kyrie Irving who shot 32% from the three-point line in the regular season is the same player that made 53% of his 3’s in the final three decisive games of this series. On top of that, in a shot that won the Cavaliers the championship, Kyrie Irving out-Stephed the unanimous MVP right in his face. With a couple of swift dribbling moves that gave him just enough room to elevate for a fading three, Uncle Drew quieted Oakland, California and proved why he will be a superstar in this league for years to come. Congratulations, Mr. Irving.
I would also be very remiss not to mention the horrific execution of Golden State’s offense down the stretch of this crucial game. In a year where Golden State drew comparisons to the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls, the Warriors did not even seem to belong in their stratosphere. The one thing that Michael Jordan, and only a couple of players since his time possessed, was a calm nature toward the end of big games. He did not run around with the ball looking for an open shot like a child trying to shoot over his father. He did not force unnecessary three pointers with the game still within reach. The greatest basketball player of all time simply stuck to the game plan, and he knew he would be rewarded for his patience. The Warriors as a collective unit seemingly tried to hit the homerun shot on every possession in order to make the Cavaliers bow down to their greatness and give up. Although Golden State was on fire with five three-pointers in the first quarter, the Cleveland Cavaliers stuck to their game plan and executed their shots when it counted the most. Instead of trying to match the explosive capabilities that the Warriors obviously possess, head coach Tyronn Lue took key timeouts to slow his opposition’s momentum and draw up plays that stuck to his system. This led to a 48-28 points in the paint advantage for Cleveland, which established a physical style of play that offset the unbelievable shot making ability of Golden State. I know hindsight is 20/20, but I have a theory about the Warriors that could have propelled them to back-to-back championships. Golden State shot 15-41 from the three-point line in comparison to the Cavalier’s 6-25, but they made 11 less free throws as well. If the Warriors played a more aggressive brand of basketball that I advocate for, with Green or Livingston at the post, than they could have attempted and made more free throws as a result. I believe that their lack of free throw attempts, coupled with their high volume of missed 3’s that contributed toward the Cavs’ 18-7 fast break points advantage, cost the Warriors a chance at basketball immortality. My final take on the Golden State Warriors is that they must also be feeling a sense of relief today as the pressure of living up to 73-9 has vanished.
This analysis of the Finals would not have gone in this fashion if it were not for the series-changing performances of LeBron James. The Chosen One put up back-to-back 41-point performances, changed the championship with his exquisite defense, and solidified his greatness. We have always known that LeBron James is one of the most talented players the game has ever seen. The 6’8” small forward out of Akron, Ohio has an unmatched physical superiority on the court, the ability to get to the hole at will, a vision and passing ability that is beautiful to the eye, and a jump shot that crushes opponents when he is on from the mid-range. When LeBron left Cleveland in the summer of 2010, he went to a loaded Miami squad that was guaranteed to win a championship; the question was just how many. When LeBron returned to the Land, he took over the worst team in the NBA and instantly made them a title contender as he delivered the franchise their first championship the following year. LeBron departed as a boy and came back a King. The Chosen One reigns supreme on this day.