EditorsNote: Adds Curry, Durant and LeBron quotes
The third time was more than just the charm. It was perfection.
The Golden State Warriors became the NBA’s first back-to-back champion since 2013 Friday night, gradually pulling away from the Cleveland Cavaliers to complete a four-game sweep in the Finals with a 108-85 romp in Game 4 in Cleveland.
Stephen Curry poured in 37 points, including 20 in the first half, during which the Warriors took a commanding lead, helping Golden State capture its third championship in the four-year Steve Kerr coaching era.
“It was definitely the toughest,” Kerr said in comparing the three championships. “I remember sitting in this room three years ago; it seemed like a dream. This feels more like reality.
“I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant. It’s just that’s the talent we have, and that’s the experience we’ve gained. But it’s a very different feeling. It’s still euphoric, but three years ago was I can’t believe this happened, and now it’s I can definitely believe this happened. But it was hard.”
All three championships have come against the Cavaliers, with the series clincher coming in Cleveland for the second time.
“I just want to congratulate Cleveland on an amazing season,” Kerr praised. “You know, I watched that team a lot during the year. We always keep our eye on them, of course, and there have been kind of three different versions of their team. The fact that they got here surprised me, actually, watching them during the regular season. It didn’t look like they were going to have enough.
“But what (coach Tyronn Lue) did with his group and obviously what LeBron (James) does night after night is just incredible. They had an amazing run.”
Kevin Durant was named Finals MVP for the second year in a row, the sixth player to accomplish the back-to-back feat. He got seven of the 11 votes cast by the media, with Curry getting the other four.
“Does it matter?” Durant said of being picked over Curry. “We won two championships. We just won back-to-back. I don’t think anybody’s even worried about that stuff.”
Curry concurred, saying, “I think the biggest thing we appreciate in the locker room is, again, what everybody brings to the table, and we kind of unlock the greatness out of each other.”
Durant supplemented Curry’s big scoring night with the first Finals triple-double of his career with 20 points, 12 rebounds and a postseason-career-high 10 assists.
It was Durant’s 28th consecutive playoff game with 20 or more points.
“Steph went out and recruited K.D. with this in mind: Winning titles,” Kerr said. “I was there in the Hamptons (at the Durant recruiting session) when we had that discussion. I don’t remember anybody asking who is going to win MVP in the Finals. It was all about let’s win championships together, and that’s what this is about. You guys can write about MVP. We don’t care.”
The sweep was the second in Warriors history, duplicating their 1975 feat, and the first in the NBA since the Cavaliers were beaten in four straight by the San Antonio Spurs in 2007.
James, perhaps playing his final game for the Cavaliers, had his least productive outing of the series, recording 23 points, seven rebounds and eight assists in his eighth consecutive trip to the Finals. He revealed after the game that he had been playing through a significant hand injury suffered after Game 1.
“What happened? Self-inflicted, postgame after Game 1. Very emotional,” James said. “... 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.”
Despite the injury, James still scored 29 points in Game 2 and 33 in Game 3.
“To be the best player in the world and to give everything you’ve got in your 15th season, play all 82 games, probably one of the greatest playoff runs that we’ll ever see from an individual, to carry this team the way he did all season and leading by example, it’s just a testament to his character and who he is as a person and as a player,” Lue gushed of James.
“He’s a bad boy, and I love having him on our team. He fights and competes to the end. Sometimes you can give everything you’ve got and still come up short.”
A majority of Curry’s 37 points came from outside the 3-point arc. He buried 7 of 15, and Golden State connected on 14 of 38, including 9 of 17 en route to a 61-52 halftime advantage.
The Warriors buried the Cavaliers in the third quarter, holding them to 13 points on 4-for-17 shooting. James did not have a field goal in the period, going 0-for-2, as Cleveland saw its nine-point halftime deficit balloon to as many as 21.
“It’s tough,” Lue said of the challenge of defending the Warriors. “They move at such a pace, and they have five guys on the floor that can dribble, pass and shoot. They can make plays. So if you make a mistake, they’re going to make you pay. That’s the beauty of their team.
“Even when you do defend them well, you’ve still got guys like Steph and K.D. and Klay (Thompson) who can make unbelievable shots, even when you play the best of defense.”
Thompson had all 10 of his points in the third period, during which Golden State outscored the Cavaliers 25-13.
Draymond Green added nine points, nine assists and three blocks in the win, which gave Golden State six all-time championships, tying Chicago for the third-most in NBA history behind Boston (17) and the Los Angeles Lakers (16).
The Warriors blocked 13 shots in the game, with Curry and Durant joining Green with three apiece.
Andre Iguodala, playing for just the second time in the Finals, contributed 11 points to the win off the bench.
James left to a standing ovation after playing 41 of the game’s first 44 minutes. The three-time champion, including 2016 when the Cavaliers beat Golden State in seven games, can opt out of his Cleveland contract this offseason.
“I hope he stays. I mean, we all know that,” Lue insisted. “But after a game like that, I’m not in any position to talk about that. I just appreciate what he’s done for us this season. That’s all I can really speak about.”
Kevin Love had 13 points, while JR Smith and Rodney Hood chipped in with 10 apiece for Cleveland, which shot just 34.5 percent from the field and 8-for-27 from behind the 3-point line.
—Field Level Media