10 Takeaways from Cavaliers vs. Warriors NBA Finals Game 5
The Golden State Warriors got the rubber match.
For the second time in three seasons, the Warriors are NBA champions. Their third consecutive championship-round battle with the Cleveland Cavaliers proved to be the shortest, as Golden State secured the title with Monday's 129-120 win in Game 5.
Kevin Durant, a first-year Warrior and NBA Finalist for the first time since 2012, punctuated his series MVP effort with 39 points on 14-of-20 shooting. Not to be outdone, his MVP running mate Stephen Curry delivered 34 points and 10 assists. LeBron James capped yet another remarkable Finals performance with 41 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.
But enough about what happened—let's figure out what it all means.
KD's Critics Are Silenced
Arguing against Durant's decision was always a strange move. Free agency means the freedom to sign where you please. He sought out the best situation for him and his family—on and off the court—and made his way west. Even if you didn't like the optics, what would complaining actually accomplish? Not that it stopped anyone from doing so, of course. But, what can you say now?
Durant just dazzled on the biggest stage, proving to be not only an indispensable piece of the Warriors' puzzle, but their best player. He led them in scoring all five games while shooting 55.6 percent from the field and 47.4 percent outside. His dagger to complete the Game 3 comeback will go down as the shot of the series.
No vindication was needed. If Durant was good with the decision, it didn't matter how anyone else felt. But this marriage proved just as powerful in practice as it looked on paper. One season, one title, one Finals MVP. The only discussion about Durant and the Dubs at this point should be: What's next?
LeBron's Legacy Is Unchanged
Remember how much "3-1" dominated sports talk last summer? Let's hope the same thing doesn't happen to "3-5,"—James' new Finals record.
For the Jordan-is-G.O.A.T. debaters, James' mark in the championship round ends the discussion. But on an individual level, what else was he supposed to do in this series? He became the first Finals competitor to ever average a triple-double, per ESPN Stats & Info, while shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 39.0 percent outside against the league's No. 2 defense.
James was Cleveland's everything in the series. The Cavs were only a minus-7 in the 212 minutes he played—against a team that won 73 games last season before signing Durant. The Cavs were a minus-27 over the 28 minutes he sat, the equivalent of losing a 48-minute game by 46 points. If anything, the series only made his value as an all-time great even clearer.
Farewell, 3-1 Jokes
Some internet pastimes are built to last. Put the crying Jordan face on just about anything, and you have a halfway decent chance of striking viral gold.
But there was always an expiration date on the countless jabs at the Warriors' historic collapse. Maybe, just maybe, they could have enjoyed infinite infamy had the Dubs done that dastardly deed again. But by turning their 3-1 edge into a tidy 4-1 series win, this onetime gold meme should be banished to the land of flying toasters and dancing babies. (Yes, I am old—thanks for noticing.)
Really, it was such a strange way to punctuate what had been a record-setting season. And obviously, there were a handful of catastrophes that made it possible. But it happened, it made history and it clouded above this group of Warriors until the final buzzer sounded Monday. It has to feel good to have that weight off their shoulders.
Cavs Couldn't Contain Curry
The Cavs discovered two things about the Dubs over this series. First, Durant is going to get his regardless how you handle him. Second, if you want to corral this offense, Curry is the one you need to stop.
The two-time MVP struck first, averaging 28.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 9.0 assists during the first three contests. But Cleveland focused everyone on harassing him in Game 4, and it's no surprise Golden State's lone loss coincided with Curry's series-lows in points (14), field goals (four) and shots (13).
The Cavs attacked Curry again in Game 5, but the Warriors' response changed. They let him aggressively seek out shots through the increased attention, either on his own or in pick-and-rolls with Durant. And despite shooting just 2-of-9 outside, Curry scored a series-high 34 points, hitting 8-of-11 inside the arc and 12-of-15 at the line. It was MVP-ish behavior when it was most needed.
Cleveland Always Had a Fatal Flaw
Despite what James and Irving conjured up in elimination games, there was always a cap on how high these Cavs could climb. The roster was a one-way power, while the competition was a two-way terror.
It's rare that anything less than a top-10 defense supports a championship run, and the Cavs' 22nd-ranked unit couldn't be the exception. Over the Finals, they surrendered an average of 121.6 points (which would have easily led the league) and 47.5 percent shooting (which would have tied for second). Defensive deficiencies are debilitating against a powerhouse like this.
"It's probably the most, most firepower I've played in my career," James said earlier in the series, per ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin. "I played against some great teams, but I don't think no team has had this type of firepower."
Iggy Is Invaluable
It's tempting to categorize Andre Iguodala as non-essential. He's the oldest member of the Hamptons Five and the only one who wasn't an All-Star selection. He's needed his minutes managed lately, and his scoring comes and goes. But in this specific series—which could continue to be the championship round for the foreseeable future—Iguodala was as important to the Warriors as any of their non-MVPs.
His defense is equal parts relentless and instinctive, making him the ideal weapon to deploy against James or Irving. If one of the two can be contained by a solo stopper, Golden State's helpers can do the rest. Iguodala isn't a flashy offensive player, but he's reliable. He won't turn the ball over or force bad shots, two of this team's inherent vices. He quietly led all Finalists with a plus-60 plus/minus.
Iguodala is now approaching unrestricted free agency, where he won't find a shortage of suitors. And with the Warriors needing to pony up for Curry and Durant, it's feasible to think Iggy will get pushed to the back burner. But Golden State must make him a priority, provided it can. Paying everyone won't be easy, but it could be if Durant is really willing to take less than the max, as has been reported by ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne.
LeBron Hasn't Aged
James' skill set and hoops savvy sometimes distract from what an incredible athlete he is. But considering he may have filled up the series' top-10 dunk reel on his own, he put his explosive hops and unfair strength on full display.
This combo of flight and ferocity is absurd for anyone. But this is a 14-year veteran who led the league in minutes per game, then simultaneously shouldered Cleveland's heaviest offensive load and toughest defensive assignment. His birth certificate says he's 32 years old, but does anyone really know how cyborgs age?
"He's a Gatorade baby," J.R. Smith said, per Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. "He was made in a lab somewhere. There's a lot of things he does that we can't explain."
Curry-KD Went out on a Terrifying High Note
The MVP pairing of Curry and Durant wasn't always revolutionary. There were clunky times, when Curry was overly deferential or Durant was confined to the corner so Curry had room to operate.
But they were trending the right way in the postseason, and the Finals had the tag-team feel Golden State envisioned when putting this together. Sometimes they attacked in unison, putting Cleveland in impossible pick-your-poison scenarios. Other times, there was a you-go-now-I-go rhythm that allowed them to exploit hot hands or favorable matchups.
Over the four wins, Curry and Durant never scored fewer than 57 points together. They combined for 73 points (on 40 shots) and 15 assists in the championship-clincher. Their combined average of 62.0 was the third-most ever by a championship duo, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Cue the Kevin Love Rumors
In 2017, championship losses aren't processed by what happened but rather whose fault it was. And considering this is Cleveland, the popularly held answer to that question is almost always Kevin Love.
Truth be told, the four-time All-Star played a good series. But his defense and limited mobility will always make him a Warriors target, and he timed his worst game of the series poorly (scoreless first half, six points on 2-of-8 shooting). Look for Love to be cast in his popular scapegoat role, particularly as people realize how Cleveland's cap situation makes trading the only viable strategy to dramatically adjust the roster.
That's an issue because, as B/R's Howard Beck noted, "catching the Warriors will require significant changes this offseason." Expect Paul George's name to come up a lot—like it does here—even though it's impossible to imagine Love anchoring that trade. But fans will want to see a counter to the Durant pickup, and Love is the most high-profile piece they will conceivably be willing to shop.
Greatest Team Ever?
There are two ways to frame what the Warriors accomplished this season, either as magical or predictable. Both tell the same story: This roster was overloaded in a way that's rarely, if ever, seen. And that talent produced something incredible.
The Warriors rolled out two new starters and a revamped reserve unit this season. They lost Durant for more than a month, and then their head coach, Steve Kerr, for six weeks of the postseason. And still, they matched the all-time mark for offensive efficiency and tied for the seventh-most wins ever (67).
But it felt like they were just getting started. They won 31 of their final 33 games, losing once when they sat Klay Thompson and once when the Cavs set a host of Finals offensive records. They opened the postseason with the longest winning streak ever (15) and tied for the fewest losses by a champion (one). This could have been the greatest season ever—at least, until the Warriors tip off 2017-18.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.