The city of Cleveland ended its 52-year championship drought when LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers stunned the Golden State Warriors to win the 2016 NBA Finals.
The Cavaliers were the underdogs against the 73-win Warriors, who had outlasted the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals to reach the championship stage. James and the Cavs entered the matchup with a chip on their on shoulders after being eliminated by Golden State in the 2015 NBA Finals.
The Warriors quickly took control of the series with two lopsided wins at home. Down 2-0, the Cavaliers returned to Cleveland for a pivotal Game 3 without Kevin Love, who suffered a concussion during Game 2. The team stepped up for a dominant, 120-90 win led by James (32 points), Kyrie Irving (30 points) and J.R. Smith (20 points). Despite the impressive win, the Cavaliers couldn’t continue their momentum when Love returned for Game 4. Stephen Curry and the Warriors caught fire in the 4th quarter to win 108-97 and open a 3-1 series lead.
However, the game wasn’t blemish free for Golden State. During the final period, Draymond Green collided with James and made"unnecessary contact with a retaliatory swipe of his hand to the groin". This move resulted in a flagrant foul being issued for Green before Game 5, which forced Green to be suspended for one game because it was his fourth flagrant foul point of the playoffs. The loss of Green, who anchored Golden State’s defense, gave the Cavaliers hope before an otherwise daunting Game 5 in Golden State.
“I know what I’m capable of doing,” James said before Game 5. “I know what my team is capable of doing. Especially in a do-or-die game.”
This confidence fueled the Cavs during Game 5 as James and Irving took control to win 112-97 and force Game 6 in Cleveland. James dominated for 41 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and three blocks while Irving added another 41 points on 17-for-24 shooting with six assists. These historic performances marked the first time in NBA Finals history two teammates each scored 40-plus points in the same game.
“Our coaching staff gave us a great game plan and, as one of the leaders of the team, we just went out and executed,” James said. “You’ve got a guy like [Irving] who is very special, it’s probably one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen live. To put on the show that he did, you just go out and follow the keys and play winning basketball, and we did that tonight.”
With the series returning to Cleveland, the pressure started to shift towards the Warriors as they looked to avoid being the first team in NBA Finals history to blow a 3-1 series lead. And their backs were pushed deeper into the ropes when starting center Andrew Bogut was diagnosed with a left knee injury, which sidelined him for the remainder of The Finals. Green returned from suspension to give the Warriors a lift in Game 6, but it wasn’t enough as the Cavaliers stormed out to a 20-point lead in the first quarter and held on to the lead throughout the game. The Warriors closed the gap in the fourth, but it wasn’t enough to stop the series from concluding with the best two words in sports -- Game 7.
The Warriors stormed out of the gates with help from Green, who dominated for 21 points in the first half to give his squad a seven-point halftime lead. Despite the strong start, the third quarter belonged to Cleveland as they closed the gap to one entering the fourth quarter. Both teams combined for just 25 points in the fourth, which increased the importance of every point and possession during the tense final minutes. Instantly iconic plays from James (an unbelievable chase-down block on Iguodala) and Irving (a clutch shot over Curry with the game tied 89-89) pushed Cleveland into the lead with less than a minute to go. Down two, the Warriors turned to Curry, who couldn’t deliver as he faced lockdown defense from Love. Curry’s 3-point miss sealed the win for the Cavaliers and the championship party -- 52 years in the making -- started in Cleveland.
Finals MVP James and the Cavaliers celebrated the championship with a parade in Cleveland three days after they secured the title. Over one million people attended the city-wide party, which included a two-mile parade through downtown.
“I’m nothing without this city. I’m nothing without you all,” James told the crowd during an emotional speech. “Let’s get ready for next year.”