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Here are three key reasons why the champs pulled it out:
LeBron James left it out there
The 2016 NBA Finals MVP sat all of 71 seconds of a 2,880-second basketball game in Game 7, steadying the Cavalier offense with his screen-and-roll work as proto-point guard while working the back end defensively in ways that didn’t show up in Vines or highlight clips. James was masterful in his 199th playoff game, notching a triple-double with 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, two steals and three blocks in the win.
As is the usual custom for players who average 36.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists, three blocks and 2.7 steals per contest over a three-game span, LeBron’s Cavaliers won Games 5-7 and became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win the Finals.
James was gassed as Game 7 moved along, and he did not have the same confidence in his jumper that he showcased in his team’s previous two wins, but that hardly mattered. His ability to sop up time while various rotation helpers (read: “teammates”) came on and off the court helped the Cavaliers keep this contest tight.
It’s fair to wonder if this wasn’t the most spectacular, most prominent, six days’ worth of basketball work in NBA history.
This isn’t a nod toward his pop endorsements, but for someone who turned only 24 last March, Kyrie Irving’s game has a lot of old man to it. Working off one foot in Game 7 due to a sprained left doggie, Irving was a Cavaliers hero long before he hit the 3-pointer that gave the Cavaliers a last-minute lead the 88-win Warriors could not overcome.
Irving was brilliant around the rim in Game 7, notching 26 points on a series of Rod Strickland-esque flips and finishes while all manner of Warriors defenders fell by the wayside. The performance capped a spectacular series from the player that had to watch from a hospital bed, due to a broken right kneecap, as Golden State downed his teammates this time last year.
Kyrie finished the Finals with a 27.1 points per game average. There’s a second reason LeBron James jumped from Miami back to Cleveland in 2014, y’know.
The heart of a champion
The Cavaliers could have showed up to Game 7 with a heart of a champion. The team had every reason to believe that Golden State could have run away with the title, and working in the gimmicky black and sleeved uniforms, the Cavs could have slunked away after giving token effort in the first half. Especially with Warriors forward Draymond Green giving his team a Scottie Pippen-esque 22-point, six-rebound, five-assist line in the first half alone.
Cleveland dug in, though, despite not really showcasing an obvious hero or hot hand. LeBron James was a +4 in a game decided by four points. Irving was masterful but only in tough spurts. Kevin Love’s reclamation game saw him contribute only nine points and 14 rebounds. Tristan Thompson played nearly 32 minutes, but had two fewer rebounds (three in the contest) than Stephen Curry pulled down.
At some point in June, though, the Cavaliers discovered that they could hang. That they could deliver the championship goods against a team that, prior to Game 3, had defeated them seven consecutive times. The same team that embarrassed them in a national showcase last winter. The same team that started its regular and postseason with an 88-15 record in 2015-16.
Those Warriors will end this masterful season with an 88-18 mark, one badly needed "W" short of a consecutive championship. This is how portions play out, and they’ll make no excuses in defeat. On record, at least.
The Cavs will celebrate as they should. On the shoulders of someone who can handle the burden.
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