Title-clinching games can be strange experiences. They are often less a competition and more a coronation, like those seen in the Tour de France, where the final stage is literally a victory lap on the Champs-Élysées. The 2008 Celtics, 2012 Heat and 2014 Spurs in particular finished off emotional paths to the championship in blowout fashion. Tuesday’s 105-97 Game 6 win by Golden State over Cleveland to lock up the title wasn’t quite that extreme, but it did feel like a fait accompli midway through the night.
It certainly seemed headed for a one-way traffic demolition as the Warriors stormed out to a 28-15 lead after a first quarter in which they had 11 assists on 12 field goals, while the Cavs had nine turnovers compared to just six field goals. In going back to sticking with their big lineup, the Cavs again gambled on Andre Iguodala beating them, and he did enough in that quarter (3-7 for seven points) to make them pay.
To Cleveland’s credit, they didn’t let go of the rope. Golden State went cold from the field and Timofey Mozgov validated David Blatt’s trust in him with four offensive boards in the second quarter. LeBron James followed up a slow opening period (2-6, four points) with 11 points and a pair of assists in the second, which Tristan Thompson finished with a putback slam to get within two at 45-43 going into the locker room.
The Cavs even took the lead at the beginning of the third, but the Warriors immediately responded. A Harrison Barnes three, an Iguodala dunk, then a Draymond Green three later and in a flash, Golden State was in control again. They regained a strong grasp on the proceedings after Curry lulled the defense on a fastbreak – knowing he had Iguodala on the wing – right until the last second, when he zipped a laser pass to him for a dunk to go up 61-51.
They’d maintain that margin for some time, though the Cavs persisted and made a final push. A LeBron steal and breakaway dunk cut it to seven, yet the Warriors refused to break: Curry came out of a Steve Kerr timeout and hit a three. A J.R. Smith three to cut it back to seven? No worries, Iggy answers with a three of his own. Mozgov followed with a layup … only for ensuing threes from Curry and Klay Thompson (his only one of the game) to end the Cavaliers’ threat, aside from some minor shenanigans during the intentional fouling part of the program.
It was a fitting end to a season comprehensively owned by the Golden State Warriors. Though he fell two triples short of 100 for the postseason, Curry’s second-half hot streak in a 25-point, eight-assist night was massive. Green had a triple-double. To cap off a series in which he thoroughly earned his Finals MVP trophy, Iguodala battled LeBron again and scored 25 points as a Warrior for just the second time, the first coming in his fourth game for the team (against his former Sixers teammates) in November 2013. Thompson was invisible, David Lee played 73 seconds and Andrew Bogut didn’t play at all, yet again they were picked up by bench contributors, Shaun Livingston and Festus Ezeli on this particular night.
LeBron ended up with another marvelous box score, this time 32/18/9 on 13-33 shooting over nearly 47 minutes. His brilliance just wasn’t enough against a team that had all the answers because of the different styles they could employ. It’s rather silly that some will knock his legacy for this loss when he was also criticized for creating a super team in Miami. The negativity surrounding his phenomenal efforts against Golden State shows that people don’t truly care about winning a title organically, they just make up the rules to fit the narratives they so desperately need to be true. There’s certainly reasons to dislike LeBron, but there’s no reason not to recognize and appreciate his greatness.
As for Golden State’s greatness, it’s hard to know what to make of them in a historical context. On one hand, this feels like the beginning of their run with Curry as the model superstar in this age of pace-and-space that isn’t quite new, but is certainly being continuously refined league-wide. On the other hand, Curry seems to mask the tenuous nature of the rest of their lineup, which can range from underwhelming to dominating on any given night, and he isn’t as young as his baby face would suggest, as he’s actually months older than the rest of the born-in-1988 crop of NBA stars that includes Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love.
Curry is the offensive engine that allows them to accentuate their length and mobility on defense, and because he’s an entirely unique player, it’s impossible to forecast the rest of his prime. They felt perilously close to being solved at times in the playoffs, yet they always adapted. As much as anything else (at least other than Curry), that ability to find answers every time an opponent asks questions suggests that the “strength in numbers” displayed by these Warriors could very well carry over to their trophy case as well.