Golden State’s Kevin Durant scored 38 points and sparked a smothering defense that powered the unbeaten Warriors over defending champion Cleveland 113-91 in Thursday’s opening game of the NBA Finals.
The Warriors juggernaut matched the longest playoff win streak in NBA history at 13-0 and seized a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven championship series with game two Sunday at Oakland.
Durant, seeking his first NBA crown after leaving Oklahoma City for Golden State last July, hit 14-of-26 from the floor and added eight rebounds and eight assists, his early domination including six first-half dunks, more than in any prior full playoff game.
Durant’s defensive work helped frustrate Cleveland star LeBron James, who finished with 28 points on 9-of-20 shooting with 15 rebounds and eight assists in the first game of his seventh consecutive finals.
But James also made eight of 20 Cleveland turnovers that led to 21 Warriors points, seven of them coming in the first half, the second most in any half of his epic career.
The Warriors matched an NBA Finals record low with only four turnovers and struck for 56 points in the paint. Golden State had 11 first-half dunks in all, the most of any team in any Finals half in 20 years, Durant leading the way.
Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who had 28 points and 10 assists, sparkled in the third quarter, his two 3-pointers capping a 13-0 run to start the second half that produced a 73-52 lead. The Cavaliers never seriously threatened again.
Golden State, trying to become the first unbeaten playoff champion, matched the record 13-game post-season win streak set by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1988 and 1989 and matched by the Cavaliers this year.
The Cavaliers saw their nine-game playoff road win streak snapped. It was the second-best in NBA history after the Los Angeles Lakers took 12 in a row in 2001-02.
Kyrie Irving added 24 points for Cleveland while Kevin Love had 15 points and 21 rebounds for the Cavs, who outrebounded the Warriors 59-50. Draymond Green led Golden State with 11 rebounds.
“There’s no time to be disappointed,” Irving said. “They capitalized on our mistakes, a lot of easy baskets we can’t allow going into game two.”
James had 19 points and 11 rebounds in the first half, the first time in his career he managed a playoff double-double before halftime.
Andre Iguodala’s 3-pointer to end the first quarter gave the Warriors a 35-30 lead and Golden State stretched it to 60-52 at half-time.
Curry’s surge to open the second half pulled the Warriors away to stay. After another 3-pointer later in the third, Curry turned from the basket and kicked his feet into the air, celebrating his ability to seemingly score at will against the struggling Cavaliers.
Late in the fourth quarter, a steal from James by Ian Clark set up a no-look pass from Curry to Durant, who sank a 3-pointer and shook his head in awe of his hot hand.
Durant joined Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Rick Barry in scoring 25 or more points in his first six NBA Finals games, the prior five with Oklahoma City in a 2012 loss to the James-led Miami Heat.
The Warriors beat Cleveland for the 2015 crown but squandered a 3-1 lead last year as the Cavs made the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history.
Don’t let this distract you from the fact the Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
That’s what the Warriors have been relentlessly hearing for the past year after being turned into a punchline by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
From being a win away from completing a historic campaign in which they set the record for most wins in a regular season, to being crying Jordan face’d into oblivion, the Warriors suffered the ultimate fall from grace. They were the belle of the ball, the rare dominant team that was liked and not loathed.
And then LeBron snatched all that admiration and respectability, though much of it was self-induced as the Warriors saw their confidence suddenly viewed as arrogance and their loose, fun-loving play deemed reckless.
Now, they’re the NBA’s biggest villains, not only battering opposing teams on a nightly basis, but the concept of parity in a league that has ultimately become repetitive the past three years.
Kevin Durant’s decision to jump ship from Oklahoma City and join the bandwagon only stoked the flames and took their newfound ‘unlikeability’ to new levels. That’ll happen when you’re a 73-win team and add a former MVP, which is the equivalent of Bill Gates winning the lottery.
Golden State and their fans should have known hatred would follow, but they’ve struggled to reconcile embracing the villain role with the desire to still be liked. You can somewhat understand their unrealistic expectation that even as they embarrass teams, they should still be cheered, considering that’s exactly what was happening before their collapse against Cleveland.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will meet for the third time in a row with LeBron James playing in a record 7th consecutive NBA Finals.
Continuing their rivalry is a great theme for the fans despite the league’s struggles with parity and the looming gap in talent between these two teams and rest of the NBA.
The league has evolved and devolved in certain aspects during the past decade but the Finals have failed to disappoint in most years. The Championship round does not always go the distance and in some cases, teams are swept in an underwhelming experience for basketball fans.
However, the last decade has seen three game seven finishes and other exciting matchups which have ended in six games with compelling storylines:
In perhaps one of the most one-sided rounds of the past ten years, the Spurs thoroughly dominated a young LeBron who was appearing in his first NBA Finals at the time.
Adding on to his inexperience was the weak team he propelled to the championship round, his supporting cast was no match for the veteran Spurs who had two All-star caliber players in Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to assist their Superstar Tim Duncan.
Duncan averaged 18.3 PPG and 11.5 RPG with his running mate Parker scoring 24.5 PPG, the tandem proved to overwhelm the lesser talented Cleveland roster. James was held to 22.o PPG on .356 percent shooting from the field.
RESULT: SPURS IN FOUR
FINALS MVP: TONY PARKER
The No2 seeds out of each conference met in the Finals in what was advertised as a clash of the titans between LeBron and Kevin Durant.
The Thunder stole game one and went on to surrender their lead as the All-Star trio of James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh took over the series. LeBron broke through and won his first NBA title that for years had eluded him.
James averaged 28.6 PPG and 10.2 RPG while Wade contributed with 22.6 PPG leading their team to win the next four games in impressive fashion.
Durant averaged 30.6 PPG in the Finals but his teammates were not as productive.
RESULT: HEAT IN FIVE
FINALS MVP: LEBRON JAMES
Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were coming off a disappointing loss in the previous Finals against the Boston Celtics (later on the list). The team seemed to take out their frustrations on a less talented Orlando squad that had Dwight Howard, who was having a tremendous year but lacked players around him that could create offence.
Bryant rose to the occasion and averaged a superb 32.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists in five games. Howard averaged a whopping 15.2 rebounds per game but the Magic could not establish a well-rounded scoring offence to contend with the Lakers.
The ‘Black Mamba’ won his first title without Shaquille O’Neal that year giving him a combined four titles in six NBA Finals appearances.
RESULT: LAKERS IN FIVE
FINALS MVP: KOBE BRYANT
The Spurs got their revenge from the 2013 Finals ( later down the list), defeating the Heat by record margins. San Antonio beat the more talented Miami crew using elite ball movement and suffocating defense to blow them out on three different occasions.
A star was born in these Finals, Kawhi Leonard proved his championship mettle by posting 17.8 PPG with 6.4 RPG. Leonard’s defence was a game-changer for the Spurs as he helped slow down LeBron throughout the series.
The loss would prove to be the end of the ‘big three’ in Miami as James elected to go back to Cleveland the following season.
RESULT: SPURS IN FIVE
FINALS MVP: KAWHI LEONARD
In their first meeting against each other in the Finals, the Warriors took advantage of a hobbled Cleveland roster. Kevin Love was out for the season and Kyrie Irving was gone after his injury in Game 1, James was left to pick up the pieces.
LeBron had one of the greatest singular performances in Finals history, averaging a historic 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists. James scored 40 or more points in three games against the Warriors but his ‘Ubermensch’ ability could not save the series for Cleveland.
Steph Curry averaged 26 points and received help from Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the x-factor of the series was Andre Iguodala who helped contain James with his solid defense and contributed on offence with 16.3 PPG.
RESULT: WARRIORS IN SIX
FINALS MVP: ANDRE IGUODALA
The No2 seed Miami met the No3 seed Mavericks in a series which oddsmakers favoured the Heat to win. It was the first Finals appearance for the ‘Big Three’ in Miami but the stage seemed too intense for LeBron at the time.
James had another sub-par performance in the championship round, averaging 17.8 points and seemed like a shell of himself against the Mavericks. On the opposite side was Dirk Nowitzki who was determined to win a title before his window of opportunity closed.
Dirk had an overall great performance scoring 26.0 PPG, collecting 9.7 RPG and shooting .368% from downtown. Jason Terry continued his side-kick role and contributed 18 PPG while hitting clutch shots in key moments during the series.
LeBron moved to (0-2) in the Finals as the Heat could not win more than two games giving the Mavericks their first title in franchise history and Dirk’s first championship ring.
RESULT: MAVERICKS IN SIX
FINALS MVP: DIRK NOWITZKI
The greatest rivalry in NBA history was revived in 2008 when the two No1 seeded teams clashed in the Finals. The Celtics had reached the championship round after the acquisitions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen during the offseason.
Boston defended their home-court taking a (2-0) lead heading to Los Angeles, the Finals format was (2-3-2) at the time. After establishing the lead, the Celtics stole game 4 in Los Angeles which proved to be the series-changing moment.
The Lakers held their ground in game 5 and headed back to Boston where things got ugly for the Phil Jackson led crew. The Celtics blew the Lakers off the court with a 39 point thrashing that led them to their first title since 1986.
Paul Pierce averaged 21.8 PPG, Garnett added a double-double collecting 13 RPG and Allen topped it off with 20.3 PPG while shooting .524% from the 3-point line. The one-two punch of Bryant and Gasol could not overcome the ‘Big Three’ in Boston who were dominant on defence and offence.
RESULT: CELTICS IN 6
FINALS MVP: PAUL PIERCE
The Lakers represented the Western Conference for the third straight year and Kobe got the matchup he was hoping for, a revenge sequel against the Celtics. This time around the Lakers possessed home-court advantage and were eager to take advantage of that fact.
After relinquishing the home-court advantage in a game 2 loss at home, the Lakers went on to take game 3 in Boston in a nail-biter. The Celtics were able to regroup and win game 4 and 5 to return to the Staples Center with a 3-2 series lead.
Game 6 was a blowout win for the Lakers tying the series up for a Game 7 battle at home. Subsequently, the Celtics lost their starting center Kendrick Perkins to a knee injury while the Big Three had fatigued throughout the drawn out series.
Bryant and the Lakers sealed the win late in game 7 off of two clutch 3-pointers from Ron Artest (Metta World Peace) and were able to triumph over the Celtics in a dramatic finish.
Kobe averaged 28.6 PPG and Gasol added 18.6 PPG with 11.6 RPG. The championship win gave Kobe his fifth and final title, this was the last Finals the Big Three in Boston would reach as they split soon after.
RESULT: LAKERS IN SEVEN
FINALS MVP: KOBE BRYANT
The Heat made their third consecutive Finals appearance and were defending their crown against a veteran squad led by Duncan and Parker once again.
James had his chance to avenge the embarrassing loss to the Spurs in 2007 when his Cavaliers were swept in the Final round.
The teams split the first two games in Miami and headed back to San Antonio tied 1-1. Game 3 was a blowout win for the Spurs, beating the defending champs by a Finals record 36 points. Game 5 was much of the same as San Antonio took a 3-2 lead in the series and were keen on closing the deal in Game 6 at the American Airlines Arena in Florida.
In one of the most dramatic finishes of the past decade, Game 6 had a classic ending to regulation when Ray Allen hit a game-tying 3-pointer to send the game into overtime and essentially saved Miami’s season. The Spurs faltered and lost 103-100 booking a game seven on LeBron’s home floor.
James scored 37 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the Heat to a 95-88 victory over the Spurs. The win gave LeBron his second title in one of his greatest overall performances in the Finals, posting 25.3 PPG, 10.9 RPG and 7 APG.
RESULT: HEAT IN SEVEN
FINALS MVP: LEBRON JAMES
This rematch of the 2015 Finals had everything NBA fans wanted to see, LeBron and company were back healthy this time around as Love and Irving were ready for battle.
The Warriors were coming off the greatest regular season record in league history (73-9) and were attempting to supplant the 96′ Chicago Bulls as the greatest team ever.
Golden State won the first two games at home and appeared well on their way to another title. Cleveland took game 3 but was stunned in game 4 as the Warriors pulled off a 108-97 victory giving them a 3-1 lead. The theatrics did not end there, Green’s altercation with LeBron resulted in him being suspended for game 5 in Oakland.
Teams leading 3-1 in the Finals were 32-0 all-time before this year, the lead seemed insurmountable for the Cavaliers but they still had the best player in the world. Cleveland went on to win game 5 with Green absent, the best of seven shifted back to Ohio where Lebron scored 41 points and tied the series at 3-3.
With a chance to secure his legacy and deliver his promise to the city of Cleveland, LeBron managed to muster up another great performance and one of the most memorable blocks in NBA history. The spectacular defensive play stopped Iguodala in his tracks giving the Cavaliers one more chance at winning the game.
Irving headed down the court with time winding down, dribbled to his sweet-spot and got a one on one matchup with Curry. The clutch point guard hit a step back 3-pointer that gave Cleveland the lead and sealed the improbable comeback.
James averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists and 2.6 steals helping him win his third NBA title further cementing his legacy as one the best to ever lace them up.
RESULT: CAVALIERS IN SEVEN
FINALS MVP: LEBRON JAMES