Warriors' health, talent eventually too much for LeBron, Cavs
POSTED: Jun 17, 2015 12:04 PM ET
CLEVELAND — At the end of a long, tortuous NBA season and postseason pockmarked, undermined and largely defined by injuries, the healthiest team among those that mattered, the Golden State Warriors, captured the 2014-15 championship Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
If that sounds like some sort of backhanded compliment to the Warriors, it shouldn't. Most coaches, many players and probably 30 trainers will tell you that, in the NBA, staying healthy across 100 games and eight months is a skill.
It just happens to be one of Golden State's many -- no team has more, frankly -- bundled up so marvelously and successfully in their special and overdue adventure.
And if that sounds like some sort of excuse for the Cleveland Cavaliers, perish that thought, too. No team endured more profound, All-Star-robbing losses at the worst possible times than Cleveland -- forward Kevin Love at the end of the first round, point guard Kyrie Irving hobbled through the first three, finally going down for good in overtime of the Finals opener.
Yet when so many folks' expectations for this best-of-seven downshifted, LeBron James and his raggedy replacements and role players won Game 2 and then Game 3, giving us all a series instead of a sweep.
In the end, the team determined (and more capable, at this late date) to end a drought of 40 years between NBA titles eliminated the team striving to fill a major sports championship void stretching back across 51. The Warriors grabbed Game 6 by the throat early, loosened their grip only briefly in the middle, then wore down further a Cavaliers squad that was tapped out, of both options and gas, to win 105-97.
GameTime: Steve Kerr
The GameTime crew discuss Steve Kerr winning the 2014-15 NBA Championship with the Warriors as a rookie head coach.
When the moment finally came, Warriors guard Stephen Curry flung the basketball high above the court, up near Quicken Loans Arena's "Humongotron" videoboard. Even before it landed, the Golden State players and coaches spilled onto the Cavaliers' court in all manner of small- and large-group hugs.
They had been the best early (21-2 start) and the best late (a franchise-best 67-15), the most potent (110.0 ppg) and the stingiest (98.2 defensive rating) all year. They were the healthiest, sure, but they also might have had the most fun, with a rookie coach in Steve Kerr who knew how to mix work and play.
Kerr, who won five championship rings as a player (three in Chicago, two in San Antonio) before this one in his debut season as a coach, inherited a playoff team that had built strong defensive habits under Mark Jackson. But the Warriors needed an offensive system to tap their talents and a bench boss they could follow and trust.
"I was well aware of the versatility that the roster had," Kerr said, "but as I got to know the players, I realized they had what it took spiritually, emotionally. They were united. They wanted to win. They were close."
Said Steph Curry, who won the regular season's Most Valuable Player award after he and Kerr clicked so well: "Every decision he made, I think everybody bought into it. Whether you understood it or not, you bought into it. Because he's a champion."
GameTime: Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry joins the GameTime Crew to discuss the Warriors' winning the NBA Championship.
The Warriors had their lithe leader on the floor in Curry, who became a new, young face of the league with its breeziest, most wispy and currently deadly game. Curry scored 25 points in the finale, averaged 26 in the series and hit 25 of his 65 3-point attempts in the six games. By the end, though, what mattered most was the moment he had with his father, Dell, who logged 16 seasons as an NBA deep threat without winning a title.
"An unbelievable feeling," said Curry, whose whole family -- dad, mom, wife and daughter Riley -- became a part of these playoffs. "He's living through me and my teammates through this whole journey."
Curry Family Celebrates
Stephen Curry and his family celebrate after the Warriors win the NBA title.
At the end, Golden State still had a surprise, a new wrinkle, in the way it turned a veteran NBA starter into a reserve and then back again.
Andre Iguodala, a 31-year-old, two-way wing player, had started the first 758 games of his NBA career. He started none in 2014-15 and through three playoff rounds, taking a step back so the Warriors could develop Harrison Barnes while holding Iguodala's impact in reserve.
So what happened over the past week? Iguodala started the last three games of The Finals in place of a 7-footer, Golden State won them all, and his performances earned him the Bill Russell Award as Finals MVP.
Coaches everywhere rejoiced, figuring this makes it that much easier to sell sacrifice and selflessness to the next I-me-mine hardwood hero they encounter.
GameTime: NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala
The GameTime crew discusses Andre Iguodala winning the NBA Finals MVP
Between Iguodala's defensive work on James, the game's toughest cover, to his offensive contributions (22 points in Game 4, 25 in the clincher) to the manner in which he adjusted in mid-Finals to a reconfigured role, Iguodala was said by teammates to have "saved the season."
"I think that defines our team," Shaun Livingston said. "Everybody being ready."
Said Iguodala, exhausted after his rugged duty: "I've been preparing for the moment for 11 years now."
Fans back in the Bay Area had been waiting even longer, keeping the 1974-75 Warriors of Rick Barry, Al Attles, Jamaal Wilkes and Clifford Ray dear in their hearts for 40 years while pining for an updating. They got it Tuesday -- while the folks whose sports dreams are invested in the Cavaliers, the Browns and the Indians came up empty again.
I've been preparing for the moment for 11 years now.
– Finals MVP Andre Iguodala
So did James, who -- despite the pair of rings he won in Miami -- dropped to 2-4 in The Finals. Never mind his 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists across the six games this time, it was unrealistic for anyone to think he could turn Matthew Dellavedova, Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov and the rest into champions without Love's and Irving's higher octane help.
"Tried as much as we could to try to make up for those guys," said James, reminding reporters about early season casualty Anderson Varejao as well, "but it's a lot of talent sitting in suits."
Excuses weren't welcome, though, and perspective was hard to come by. "When you fall short, it hurts," James said, "and it eats at you and it hurts me to know that I wish I could have done better and done more and just put a little bit more effort or whatever the case may be to help up get over the hump. But it just wasn't our time."
The deeper, the healthier, the more talented -- the better -- team won. And in keeping with NBA tradition, the league's best team won. Golden State earned that reputation through the long grind, then reaffirmed it over the past two months. The Warriors did it with a rookie coach -- the Cavaliers had one, too, in David Blatt, in NBA terms anyway -- and they did it playing an outside-in, fast-paced style that typically gets pooh-poohed at this time of year.
When you fall short, it hurts and it eats at you and it hurts me to know that I wish I could have done better ... but it just wasn't our time
– LeBron James
In fact, Kerr doubled-down on the unconventional when he committed to small ball in Game 4, flipping The Finals in his team's favor after Cleveland ground its way to a 2-1 lead. What followed across the series' final 144 minutes -- for a team whose roster showed no prior Finals experience whatsoever -- was good enough to last another 40 years, though the Warriors and their fans hope it doesn't need to.
"Things went our way," Kerr said, "but we took advantage of that. Every year that's the case. A team falls, a team soars, there's injuries, bounce of the ball, whatever. In the end, none of it matters. The only thing that matters is that we got the job done."
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