Barring something dramatic, the Golden State Warriors just ushered in a new potential dynasty by finishing off the Cleveland Cavaliers, 129-120, in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday night.
There simply wasn't meant to be another 3-1 comeback this time. Fans in the greater Cleveland area won't want to hear it, but failing to do so makes last year all the more impressive, even if it stings right now.
Indeed, this time Game 5 felt like a formality based on Kevin Durant's unstoppable form and the inconsistent quality of play around LeBron James. Back in Oracle Arena and facing elimination, some of LeBron's biggest surrounding pieces fell short in the hostile environment.
Here's a look at the notable stats:
|K. Love||6 PTS, 10 REBS, -23|
|L. James||41 PTS, 13 REBS, 8 AST, -13|
|T. Thompson||15 PTS, 8 REBS, -7|
|K. Irving||26 PTS, 6 AST, +4|
|J. Smith||25 PTS, -2|
|D. Green||10 PTS, 12 REBS, 5 AST, +19|
|K. Durant||39 PTS, 7 REBS, 5 AST +18|
|Z. Pachulia||0 PTS, 3 REBS, -9|
|S. Curry||34 PTS, 6 REBS, 10 AST, +3|
|K. Thompson||11 PTS, 5 REBS, -6|
The full-blown numbers at ESPN.com don't help the disparity Monday look any better. Cleveland might've shot a better percentage from the floor (53.4 percent compared to 51.1), but it didn't end up mattering because they missed eight attempts from the line and lost the battle in assists (27-22) and rebounds (42-40).
Cleveland flashed signs of continuing the Game 4 dominance, and Oracle Arena seemed well aware of the possibility after a 37-33 first quarter favoring the visitors.
But the Cavaliers couldn't keep the pace. Kevin Love only scored six points, and while the team didn't need him to score a gaudy total, he went from 6-of-8 shooting from range in Game 4 to missing all three attempts Monday night.
Kyrie Irving also chose a bad time to post one of his worst games of the Finals, scoring only 26 points after checking in at 38 or more in each of the last two. His 40.9 percent shooting from the floor was his second-lowest mark of the series.
As for LeBron, he flirted with another triple-double by way of the 41 points and 13 boards on a ridiculous 46 minutes. Naturally, many immediately started the legacy conversation, though a note by Chris Haynes of ESPN.com should silence much of the discussion:
"I left everything on the floor every game," James said, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN.com).
After the loss, the conversation moved to comparisons to Michael Jordan. ESPN Stats & Info, though, made a point to highlight the fact LeBron's faced 11 Finals elimination games to Jordan's zero.
Irving came to LeBron's defense after the loss, going on a heartfelt rant about his teammate, as captured by Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver:
Discussions of superteams and legacies organically weave in the Warriors, a team perhaps unlike anything the NBA has seen before.
Of course, Durant is the main topic here. The eventual Finals MVP posted averages of 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game in the series while shooting 55.6 percent from the floor and 47.4 percent from deep.
After the triumph, he didn't shy away from addressing the criticism of his decision to join the Warriors, per the AP: "You can talk about whatever you want to talk about, but nobody comes in and cares about the game or loves the game as much as I do or works as hard as do I at the basketball game. You can talk about whatever happens on the outside, but inside those lines, I come to bring it every day."
Durant also made a point to heap praise on his main partner, Stephen Curry, who dropped 34 points Monday night. HoopsHype's Alex Kennedy captured the note:
This brief five-game bout in which the first three were absolute blowouts in either total box score or in essence begs the question—where do both sides go from here?
For the Cavaliers, once the pains of the loss wear off, how do they respond? Rachel Nichols of ESPN captured the temperature of the roster after the loss:
These current Cavaliers just got thrown around by a team specifically constructed to beat them no matter what LeBron does, even if it means playing the best basketball of his life. And fans of the team don't want to hear it now, but LeBron does become a free agent again in 2018.
The logical response for the Cavaliers is trotting out a smaller lineup with a bigger emphasis on the deep ball (Monday, the team shot 11-of-24 from deep, but J.R. Smith inflated the numbers with a 7-of-8 mark). But easier said than done given the money spent on James, Irving, Love and Tristan Thompson.
As for the Warriors? It seems like the conversation will shift toward a repeat. No team in the NBA has the proper counter to the Curry-Durant tandem, though small improvements will become necessary to counteract whatever the Cavaliers and teams like the San Antonio Spurs do.
But we're talking about the NBA, so expect some noise about Durant's 2017 player option, justified or otherwise. Ditto for Curry heading to the free-agent market.
It's hard to imagine a reality in which the Warriors don't keep the band together and continue league dominance. But there was a time when LeBron returning to Cleveland and winning a title seemed out of touch, too. Heck, there was a time a 3-1 comeback felt the same.
It's clear from the immediate reaction, though, no participant's legacy took an overly big hit during these Finals. Based on the comments from those involved, the Warriors are going to soak this in before making any rash decisions this summer. LeBron and the Cavaliers will keep a close eye on the situation while finding wiggle room to improve after getting thwarted by one of the best rosters assembled in NBA history.