It’s been 40 long, arduous years, but the Golden State Warriors are finally back on top of the world as they ran roughshod over an undermanned, yet gallant Cleveland Cavaliers 4-2 in the 2015 NBA Finals.
The Warriors were coming off a magical season, with the Splash Brothers – regular-season MVP Stephen Curry and fellow All-Star Klay Thompson – leading a balanced and seemingly effortless offensive symphony characterized by a furious pace, atrocious space and deadly shooting accuracy.
Led by Lebron James, arguably the greatest basketeer of this generation, the Cavaliers on the other hand had willed themselves into the prestigious NBA Finals despite a line-up so depleted by injuries.
Some key take-outs in the series:
First, health is wealth. The injuries to Cav first-stringers Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao were simply too huge to ignore. Credit LBJ and the Cavs who, despite the absence of key players in the Cav line-up, were able to mount a serious challenge for the crown – even taking the lead 2-1 before the Warriors turned it into a car race. Had the Cavs line-up been as healthy, the results would have certainly been different.
Second, tall doesn’t always beat small. It is said that basketball is a big man’s sport. However, when the Cavs took an alarming 2-1 lead in the Finals, Warriors’ rookie coach Steve Kerr gambled with an audacious move, bringing in a small, but more athletic unit. To offset the height and rebounding disadvantage, he had the Warriors run like crazy on both the defensive and offensive ends, and shoot the lights out with precision treys.
Third, good defense leads to good offense. Most fans marvel at the Dubs’ show-no-mercy offensive barrage. What is almost always left unnoticed is the fact that the Warriors offense was made possible by an obnoxious defense which choked the passing and cutting lanes, swarmed the lane intruders, forced so many turn-overs, leading to an exquisitely performed transition offense.
Fourth, one super player will always be trumped by 3-4 good ones. Lebron tried the best Superman impersonation he could, speeding and wheeling and muscling and soaring, as he tried to tow a Cleveland cast of characters that was clearly not as immortal. Unfortunately, he would be left literally out of breath come the 4th quarter, when the Dubs stepped on the gas and gun ahead full throttle.
The Cavs clearly wanted to keep the games low-scoring, grind-it-to-the-ground contests. And the scoresheets tell it all. The Warriors won all the games when their score cleared 100. Cleveland took both games where the Warriors’ score didn’t reach the century mark.
Game 1: 108 – 100 (GS in overtime)
Game 2: 95 – 93 (Cleveland in overtime)
Game 3: 96 – 91 (Cleveland)
Game 4: 103 – 82 (GS)
Game 5: 104 – 91 (GS)
Game 6: 105 – 97 (GS)
The Cavs knew that their only chance to win was to stop the speed freaks, keep the scores low, and give their own legs a chance to compete in the final minutes. They knew that if the score was close come the last 2 minutes, a guy named Super LBJ would come to the rescue and close it with a favorable result.
Lebron almost did it in the first game, before running out of gas in the overtime period, 108 – 100. He did it in the second game, also decided in heart-pounding overtime, 95 – 93. He did it again on the third game, with the help of the hometown crowd, 96 – 91!
Suddenly, Lebron just needed two more games to cap a Cinderella season. Two more games to elevate his stature further as a cage demigod. Two games left, and Cleveland would finally find hoop heaven.
But then, fatigue was slowly setting in. Lebron was taking on far too many chores on both sides of the court. And this was taking its toll.
And then the Warriors went full throttle. Throwing caution to the wind, and junking conventional basketball wisdom, coach Steve Kerr brought in Andre Igoudala and transformed his players into Formula 1 speedsters in their revved-up Ferraris.
The rest is history. Zooming ahead in Game 4 as if their very lives depended on it, the Warriors left Lebron huffing and puffing. Score was a whopping 103 – 82! Coach David Blatt tried matching Kerr’s small unit with one of his own in the crucial Game 5, only to realize he didn’t have the same talent available, 104 – 91. Warriors were once again on top, 3-2.
Back in Cleveland for the crucial 6th Game, and with a loud fan base egging them on, Lebron and the Cavs would make one last heroic stand. Like a mortally wounded tiger fending off a pack of hungry hyenas, Lebron pawed and clawed, growled and brawled. While the hyenas circled, nipping and biting, pestering and never giving the tiger a minute of rest.
In the end, in the season’s moment of truth, Lebron would raise the proverbial white flag. It was clear that nothing could stop the Warriors this time. They were just too good, too fast, too young, too strong, too many.
Simply too much for Lebron and the hapless Cavs.
(Photos courtesy of usa today, bleacher report, zimbio.com, youtube.com, yahoo.com, ibtimes.com, hoopshabit.com, wpri.com, Andrew Bernstein, Getty images)