There were numerous turning points, heel turns, clutch plays, chess moves, and salty tweets throughout this soon-to-be-immortalized NBA Finals. I tried my best to combine them all into one list of moments to remember.
Despite experiencing it happen live, revisiting the fourth quarter on NBA TV, reading an infinite number of recaps, reactions, and tweets, and watching the postgame interviews into the early hours of Monday morning, I still cannot believe the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors in Oakland on Sunday. There were numerous turning points, heel turns, clutch plays, chess moves, and salty tweets throughout this soon-to-be-immortalized NBA Finals. I tried my best to combine them all into one list of moments to remember.
1. The Drive. The Fumble. The Shot. And now, The Block. In a career full of inhuman moments, LeBron James turned in his most unbelievable play yet. With the score tied at 89 with less than two minutes to go, the King ascended atop his throne for good.
2. Kyrie Irving hit the biggest shot of his career on Sunday night. Uncle Drew had a few lackluster games early on in the series, only to turn in the best performances of his career down the stretch, culminating in the go-ahead basket, in Steph Curry’s grill, with under a minute to play.
3. Speaking of maligned Cavaliers stars using Curry to redeem themselves in Game 7, Kevin Love played the greatest defensive possession of his life to prevent Curry from getting off a three-pointer in the final seconds of the game. After all the subtweets, criticism of his defense, and awkward fit into the offense, Love was able to shut down the back-to-back MVP to seal the game. By the way, Love has still yet to lose a home playoff game or a playoff series.
4. Draymond Green played with the vengeance-seeking passion of a Denzel Washington character on Sunday night, finishing the game with an absurd 32 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists, and two steals. More importantly, he drained his first five three-point attempts and went 11-15 from the field overall.
5. J.R. Smith saved the Cavaliers’ season by hitting consecutive three-pointers early in the third quarter. Right when the Warriors looked poised to go on what we all thought was going to be an inevitable run to put the game out of reach, Smith and Irving combined to score eight straight to tie the game at 54.
6. With 10 seconds left and the Cavaliers up three, LeBron tried to go ahead and finish the game off by attempting to land what would have been the most earth-shattering dunk in Finals history. Green stepped up to the challenge and fouled LeBron to prevent the dunk from landing. The foul caused LeBron to land hard on his wrist. Obviously in pain, LeBron missed the first free throw, breathing momentary life into the Warriors, before swishing the second one to put the game seemingly out of reach.
7. Not to focus too much on LeBron, but this man just threw down a 27-11-11-2-3 to win a Game 7 on the road in the NBA Finals against the Greatest Regular Season Team of All Time. That fact should have its own wing in Springfield. For the series, he averaged 29.7-11.3-8.9-2.6-2.3 to win a Finals MVP trophy that he probably should have received last season.
8. The Warriors lost three straight games down the stretch to lose the series. It was the first three-game losing streak in Steve Kerr’s tenure as head coach of the team.
9. The Warriors also lost twice at home in those three games, after only losing three previous home games all season. The Game 7 home loss was only the fourth in Finals history.
10. Golden State became the first team in NBA history to both overcome a 3-1 series lead and lose a 3-1 series lead in the same postseason. It marked the first time in Finals history a team blew a 3-1 lead.
11. The Warriors lost the same amount of games in the playoffs (nine) as they did during the entire regular season.
12. And for one final depressing Warriors statistic, the 73-9 Warriors joined the 2007 Patriots, 2001 Mariners, and 1995-96 Red Wings in the Greatest Regular Season Team of All Time asterisk club.
13. Shaun Livingston, the man who almost had his leg amputated and that as played for 9 different franchises, scored 20 points on 8-10 shooting (mostly from midrange) to lead the Warriors to a bench mob-inspired 104-89 victory in Game 1.
14. In that same game, Leandro Barbosa scored 11 points in just over 11 minutes of action without missing a shot. The Brazilian Blur shot 5-5 from the field.
15. After winning Game 2 110-77, the Warriors the posted the highest winning margin (48 points) after the first two Finals games in history.
16. The Cavilers put together a 30-point victory of their own in the next game, winning 120-90 in Cleveland, but lost Love to a concussion in the process, something that should have gotten more attention when Love was getting roasted over a fire for his play.
17. In a 108-97 Game 4 victory, the Warriors broke another 95-96 Chicago Bulls’ record, this time for most combined regular season and postseason wins in a season with 88.
18. In the waning moments of their 88th win of the season, Draymond and LeBron, each team’s beating heart and fiery soul, had to be separated. After the game Green was assessed a flagrant 1, giving him a fourth flagrant foul point of the playoffs and a suspension for game five, the first Finals suspension since Jerry Stackhouse in 2006.
19. The Warriors also lost center Andrew Bogut to a season-ending knee injury in Game 5. Although his stats in the series, throughout the playoffs, and even during the regular season did not particularly stand out, Bogut was the anchor of the defense and arguably the best non-Gasol passing seven-footer in the league.
20. It was not nearly at the NBA Finals MVP level of play that we saw last year, but Andre Iguodala deserves some attention for turning in a gutsy performance amidst back-problems and having to lead a suddenly depleted defense late in the series.
21. In Game 5, Kyrie turned in what is probably the greatest game of his young career. The whirling dervish of a point guard tallied 41 points on 17-24 shooting (5-7 from three), six assists, three rebounds, two steals, a block, and countless acrobatic layups.
22. Games 5 and 6 were also probably the greatest two-game stretch of LeBron’s career. The Game 6 against Boston might still be his finest hour, but consecutive performances of 41-16-7-3-3 and 41-8-11-4-3 is video game level impressive.
23. Tristan Thompson earned his contract in Games 5 and 6. The world’s greatest offensive rebounder feasted down low. He grabbed 15 and 16 rebounds in the two games, respectively.
24. The three game stretch from 4-6 finally saw Steph and Klay begin to look like The Splash Brothers we all know and love. Curry scored 38 points, shot 7-13 from deep, and added five rebounds, six assists, and two steals in Game 4. Klay dropped in 37 on 11-20 shooting (6-11 from three) in Game 5. The two combined for 55 in Game 6 before everything descended into chaos for the Golden Boys.
25. The end of Game 6 was when it truly began to feel like LeBron and the Cavs were the Mountain, Steph and the Warriors were Prince Oberyn, and we were all the Lannisters watching along in either horror or glee depending on your perspective. As an ejected Steph walked into the tunnel, thanks to having nailed a court-side fan with his mouthpiece, for the first time all season it felt like this Warriors team may not come out on top. Yes, Steph's final two fouls were iffy at best and Golden State had thrived playing on the edge all season, but it was still disorienting to see the back-to-back MVP exit a Finals game in that fashion.
26. With no more miracles left in the tank, The Splash Bros combined to shoot 12-36 from the field and 6-24 from behind the arc during Game 7. Not even the saltiest of Ayesha Curry tweets or the ballsiest of Mo Speights press conference quotes could hype up those numbers. And even with the poor shooting, the four-point deficit, and seemingly insurmountable odds, I still felt like the Warriors might pull it off in those final seconds. That is probably the most fitting testament to what they accomplished this season.
27. Quick shoutout to Anderson Varejao for becoming the first person to play for both Finals’ teams in the same season.
28. Quick funeral notice for the max contracts of Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli after their performances in the spotlight.
29. I still can’t believe that after all the blowouts and weirdness the series was tied at exactly 610 points apiece through six games.
30. James Jones, three-time NBA champion.
31. After being an integral part of last season’s Finals, Matthew Dellavedova did not play a single minute of Game 7.
32. Game 7 was the most watched NBA game in nearly 20 years, peaking at 44.5 million viewers. Here’s to a chalk match in the 2017 Finals.