Kevin Durant became a champion and lifted Golden State to near-perfection as the Warriors celebrated their fifth NBA title Monday, defeating Cleveland 129-120 to win their second NBA Finals in three seasons.
Sparked by 39 points from Durant, who left Oklahoma City last July in quest of his first crown, the Warriors took the best-of-seven series 4-1, reclaiming the throne they lost to the Cavaliers a year ago.
Golden State completed a 16-1 playoff run, the best post-season win percentage in NBA history, and added to titles won in 2015 and 1975 plus those from 1947 and 1956 when the team was based in Philadelphia.
“There are a lot of superteams that haven’t worked,” Durant said. “But we come together and we’re the champions now.”
“We were able to get them last year and they went out and got one of the best players this league has ever seen,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said. “Obviously it paid dividends.”
Durant, who was named the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, became the first player with five consecutive 30-point performances in the NBA Finals since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000.
“I couldn’t sleep for two days,” Durant admitted. “I was anxious. I was jittery. I just wanted to put it all out there.
“We battled. But we did it. We’re champions. And we’re celebrating on our home court.”
James scored 41 points to lead Cleveland. He also had 13 rebounds and eight assists, giving him a triple-double average for the finals, an unprecedented feat.
But James, in his seventh consecutive playoff series and eighth overall, fell to 3-5 in the championship round.
“Emotions are all over the place right now,” James said. “I left everything on the floor every game. So for me personally I have no reason to put my head down. It’s just not my time.”
– ‘Just want to do it again’ –
Stephen Curry added 34 points and 10 assists while Andre Iguodala came off the bench to score 20 points. Kyrie Irving added 26 points and J.R. Smith 25 in a losing cause.
“We’ve learned from everything we’ve been through to bring (the trophy) back home,” Curry said. “I’m just proud to be part of something special and I just want to do it again.”
After dropping last year’s title when Cleveland made the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history from a 3-1 deficit, the Warriors vowed not to stumble again.
“We were heartbroken last year, but this year was our turn and we’re obviously quite happy,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “These guys are so gifted and committed to each other and so unselfish. It’s a combination of talent and an unselfish nature.”
Kerr found himself watching a combined seven All-Stars on both clubs and marveling at the showcase of talent on display.
“It was a hell of a series. Five games didn’t do it justice, just for how competitive it was,” Kerr said. “There were times where I was just stunned looking at the talent on the floor. Incredible high-level basketball out there.”
Excitement was high for the contest. Two courtside seats reportedly went for $133,000 on the resale market while other pairs of seats went for $82,000 and $90,000.
James hit a layup to open the fourth quarter and pull Cleveland within 98-95, as close as the Cavs had been in the second half after trailing by 17 in the first half.
Golden State responded with a 10-3 run, Durant scoring five as the Warriors stretched their margin back to 108-98.
Kyle Korver’s 3-pointer pulled the Cavaliers within 108-102 but dunks by Durant and Andre Iguodala boosted Golden State’s lead to 112-102 and the Warriors kept Cleveland at bay, a Durant driving layup stretching Golden State’s edge to 118-106 with five minutes remaining.
From there, the Warriors defense stiffened and the Cavaliers congratulated the Warriors as the finals seconds ticked off the clock and the crowd went wild.
– ‘A lot of guys cried’ –
At the end, the gutted Cavaliers gathered in the locker room and emotions took over.
“We had a moment,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “I broke down so I couldn’t really finish my speech. A lot of guys cried because they wanted it bad. And that’s all you can ask.”
“They gave everything they had, and we fought, we competed and we never gave in, but they beat us,” he added.
James made a fast-break slam dunk over Durant for a 41-33 Cleveland lead.
But Golden State answered with a game-turning 27-4 run, slam dunks by Iguodala and Draymond Green and three Durant 3-pointers spicing the spurt that produced a 60-45 Warriors lead.
“Couple turnovers, couple bad shots and that led to them getting out on the break and getting out in transition,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.
The Warriors took a 71-60 half-time lead but the Cavaliers trimmed the deficit, Smith sinking a 3-pointer to pull Cleveland within 98-93 entering the fourth quarter.