CLEVELAND – There were still a few seconds left on the clock when the Golden State Warriors stormed off their bench to begin a celebration that wasn’t guaranteed.
They couldn’t wait any longer.
They had reached their destination: dynasty.
Stephen Curry scored 37 points, Kevin Durant added a triple-double and another NBA Finals MVP trophy and the Warriors won their second straight title and third in four years Friday night, 108-85 over the Cleveland Cavaliers to complete a sweep and perhaps drive LeBron James from his home again to chase championships.
Love `em or hate `em, there is no denying them.
“That’s how you know we’re a great team, is when everybody’s coming after us,” Durant said. “Whether it’s opponents, whether it’s different coaches panning for us, whether it’s the fans, the media that hate us, it feels good when you’re the team that everybody’s gunning for. It makes us better. It makes us come to work and try to play at that championship level every single day, and that’s the hardest part.”
Golden State. Golden standard.
Overcoming obstacles all season long, the Warriors won their fourth straight finals matchup against James and Cleveland with ease.
It was the first sweep in the NBA Finals since 2007, when James was dismissed by a powerful San Antonio team in his first one. His eighth straight appearance didn’t go well either, and now there’s uncertainty where the superstar will play next.
James, who said he “pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand” after injuring himself in frustration following Game 1, finished with 23 points and spent the final minutes on the bench, contemplating what went wrong and maybe his next move.
Following the game, he sat quietly in his corner locker with a towel draped over his head. He arrived at his postgame news conference with a large black brace on his right hand. James explained the injury was “self-inflicted” following an overtime loss in Game 1, which included a reversed official’s call and teammate J.R. Smith dribbling out the clock to end regulation.
“I had emotions on the game was taken away from us,” James said. “I had emotions of you just don’t get an opportunity like this on the road versus Golden State to be able to get a Game 1, and I let the emotions get the best of me. Pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand, so that’s what it is.”
Act IV between the Warriors and Cavs featured a drama-filled Game 1. But from there on, Durant, Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green and the rest of this California crew showed why they’re the game’s gold standard.
And they may stay that way.
Not wanting to give the Cavs or their fans any hope despite the fact that no team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit in the NBA playoffs, the Warriors built a nine-point halftime lead when Curry ignored a closeout by James and dropped a 3-pointer.
Then the league’s best team tightened the screws on Cleveland in the third quarter, outscoring the Cavs 25-13 and prompting Golden State fans to begin those drawn-out “War-eee-orrss” chants that provide a perfect musical accompaniment to their 3-point barrages.
By the start of the fourth quarter, the only question was whether Curry would win his first NBA Finals MVP or if it would go to Durant for the second year in a row.
And again, it was Durant, who added 12 rebounds and 10 assists – more satisfaction and validation for a player who couldn’t beat the Warriors so he joined them.
After surviving a rougher-than-usual regular season and beating top-seeded Houston in Game 7 on the road in the Western Conference finals, the Warriors withstood a 51-point masterpiece by James in the opener and joined an elite group of teams to win multiple championships in a four-year span.
Only Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics, the “Showtime” Lakers and the Los Angeles squad led by Kobe and Shaq, and Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls have been as dominant in such a short period of time.
The Dub Dynasty.
The path to this title was more precarious than the first two for coach Steve Kerr and the Warriors, who overcame injuries, expectations, a built-to-dethrone-them Rockets team and the brilliance of James, who may have played his final game in Cleveland.
The 33-year-old, who came back to the Cavs and ended the city’s 52-year championship drought in 2016, is expected to opt out of his $35.6 million contract for 2019 next month and become a free agent.
“I have no idea at this point,” he said when asked if he played his final game for the Cavs. “The one thing that I’ve always done is considered, obviously, my family. Understanding especially where my boys are at this point in their age. They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. I’ve got a teenage boy, a pre-teen and a little girl that wasn’t around as well.
“So sitting down and considering everything, my family is a huge part of whatever I’ll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that. So I don’t have an answer for you right now as far as that.”
James averaged 34 points, 8.5 rebounds and 10 assists in the series, but as has been the case in the past, he didn’t have enough help.
Another Summer of LeBron is officially underway and there are already teams stretching from Philadelphia to Los Angeles hoping to land the three-time champion, who may have to go elsewhere to put together a cast strong enough – and as James made clear this week, smart enough – to bring down the Warriors.
Right now, Golden State is on another tier and with Durant expected to re-sign with them in weeks and Curry, Thompson, Green and the rest still young and hungry, their reign could last much longer.
Heading into the playoffs, the Warriors appeared vulnerable. There were lingering questions about Curry’s sprained left knee that sidelined him for almost six weeks and kept him out of a first-round series against San Antonio.
Kerr was forced to mix and match lineups, and it became obvious the Warriors weren’t going to go 16-1 and storm their way to a title like they did in 2017.
The Warriors began defense of their title as a No. 2 seed and their season was in serious jeopardy when they fell behind 3-2 to presumptive MVP James Harden and the Rockets. But Golden State, catching a break when Houston star guard Chris Paul was forced to sit with a hamstring injury, showed a champion’s poise by winning two straight.
That set up another reunion with James and the Cavs.
Maybe the last.
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