James powers Cleveland Cavaliers to 2016 NBA Championship

©  Bob Donnan
LeBron James capped off one of the biggest Game 7 finals in NBA history with a stellar performance, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to victory over the defending champion Golden State Warriors 93-89.

The Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors 93-89 to clinch their first NBA championship title in history.

The season will be long talked about for the records broken by the Warriors and Curry. Now it will also be known for one of the greatest playoff performances by the best player in the NBA, James, who dragged his team back after being down 3-1 to win three games in a row and bring the NBA championship to Cleveland.

It has been a season of firsts and a season where anything was possible. The Golden State Warriors proved that by breaking the Bulls’ record for the most wins in a regular season, posting a 73-9 record. Stephen Curry proved it by hitting 400+ three-pointers in a single season – breaking his own record of 286 threes from a season before.

But the playoffs are always a different story, and the rigors of the long, demanding, record-breaking season showed. The Golden State Warriors, the first team in NBA history to have never lost back-to-back games during a regular season, lost twice in succession to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals to go down 3-1, before Curry and co. switched it back on, winning three in a row to take the series 4-3.

In the Finals, the situation was reversed.  Up 3-1 and almost home, the Warriors lost back to back games, courtesy of LeBron James putting together two 41-point games and, ably supported by Kyrie Irving, forcing the series to a Game 7.

The two teams were neck and neck in the first quarter, trading points and the lead  frequently. The Warriors had regained a semblance of their three-hitting selves (albeit with Curry still having a quiet game), while the Cavaliers’ good work on the boards made sure they snuck through with a 1-point lead to end the quarter 23-22.

The second quarter saw key players come into their own, with Draymond Green leading the pack for the Warriors, and Kyrie Irving and LeBron James forcing the issue for the Cavaliers. Curry, who had failed to find his regular-season form throughout the playoffs, was in the points, but unable to break free from the Cavaliers’ defense long enough to cause real damage.

The first half ended with a series of threes and three-point plays to help give the Warriors a 49-42 lead, despite Curry only scoring 8 points in the first half.

The third quarter picked up with the Cavaliers eating up the lead to tie the score at 54-54. They then fell back to a 59-54 deficit, before ramping up their game and taking a 68-61 lead – their biggest of the night so far.

The Warriors still ended the third quarter ahead, but with a marginal 1 point lead, 76-75. With a quarter won with Irving taking over from LeBron, the pressure was back on Curry to produce his usual star-studded performance. 

With Green having a great game for the Warriors, and both Klay Thompson and Curry subdued, it would be near-impossible to win unless one of the Splash Brothers fired.

The near-impossible is what the Warriors have become known for, and it was Green who stepped up at the start of the fourth quarter, driving his team to an 87-83 lead. The Cavaliers however, clawed back the difference to make it 89-89 with 2:50 on the clock, the 11th tie of the game (to go with 20 lead changes so far). More amazingly, after almost all of seven games played, the two teams were tied on overall points in the series too.

The game then went into a period of pointless (the numbers kind) back and forth, with James overpowering in defense, but unable to score at the other end until, with just a minute to go, Irving scored a three pointer to give the Cavaliers the lead. Curry missed a three of his own, James missed one free throw, but scored the second after a foul by Green with 10 seconds to go, and the Cavaliers closed out the game 93-89 to be crowned the 2016 NBA Champions.

Momentum is very real and for the Warriors it ran out at the worst possible moment. After fighting unbelievable odds throughout the season, they fell at the last hurdle, losing the championship in the final minute of the final game of the season. Despite Green’s heroics, it was never going to be a one-man job as the difference told – Irving and James combined for 26 and 27 against Green on 32, with Curry and Thompson 17 and 14 respectively.

Ultimately it came down to the Warriors being able to hit their threes, and, cruelly, it was the undisputed MVP Curry – the record-breaking 400+ threes, back-to-back seasons MVP Curry – who missed a three in the final minute, and with it the last chance for the Warriors to stay in the game.

But nothing can take away from the momentous job James and Irving have done at Cleveland, and the end result was a fairytale win for a team long hoping for a championship that brought in the best player in the game to win – and finally succeeded.

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