It was always supposed to end like this.
Despite the heroics of LeBron James, one (legendary) man could not beat a full ten-deep squad of well-rounded, high-IQ ballers. We knew it after game one, we doubted it for games two and three, and we set it in stone ever since. The Golden State Warriors, perhaps the most sad-sack franchise in the NBA, is the 2015 World Champion.
We can't say enough good things about a depleted Cavs team, reconstructed on the fly, that was able to get this far. Hats off to them, their great fans, and their great city. And a great big salute to their iconic franchise player. But this is Golden State's night.
At the onset, the Cavaliers reversed course on their fateful decision to run small in game five, instead starting LeBron, Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov on the front line. The early returns were not pretty as the Dubs raced out to a 28-15 lead at the first intermission. But Cleveland responded in the second quarter behind that same gigantic front line, combining for 24 first half rebounds all by themselves. The first half drew to a close at 45-43 Warriors, and it was literally anyone's game.
But for the first time in what seems like months, the Warriors delivered a trademark #ThirdQuarter performance, running the Cavs ragged, and creating a 12-point advantage in the process. The reason was the Cavaliers defense of the 1-5 pick-and-roll, wherein small-ball center Draymond Green would screen for Stephen Curry. But this well-practiced movement was little more than a ruse: the defending center would rotate over to Curry to close a 1-5 trap, and Curry would calmly slip the ball to Draymond Green at the three point line every single time. Freeze frame on any of the 452 instances of this happening this series (okay, I made that number up), and you will see Draymond with the ball in both hands, staring at the rim. Two defenders were behind him near the halfcourt line, which meant he would make a bee-line for the rim, only to Chris Paul-kick it out to Harrison Barnes or Andre Iguodala in the corner for the three.
There's some sense in refusing to let Curry beat you -- although I strongly disagree with the logic. The problem here is that instead of keeping your defense intact and leaving your best perimeter defender on Curry, you're intentionally creating a 4-on-3 fast break opportunity for Draymond to do a Magic Johnson impersonation. Worse still, Iguodala is hot right now, and Barnes was the single-best corner spot-up shooter in the Association. Curry is the MVP, and even he's not so good to prefer that.
Case in point: Draymond finished with a Magic-esque 16-11-10 slash line. Barnes was 3-of-4 from behind the arc. And MVP-winner Andre Iguodala posted a robust 25-5-5 with more outstanding defense. This was not the supporting cast to tempt fate with. Especially with an increasingly fatigued Cavaliers roster.
On the other side of the court, the Cavs struggled to move the ball against a suffocating Warriors defense. While the Cleveland bigs devoured boards as will (Thompson and Mozgov would finish with a superb 27-and-25 line, combined), the team shot just 39% from the field, and a woeful 23% from deep. Their sore legs couldn't get lift on open threes, and their exhausted bodies couldn't create any separation from an army of lengthy Warriors smalls.
The Warriors, the World Champs, will return home for a well-deserved parade as early as Friday. And I, for one, can't wait to watch Iguodala and Curry hoist that Larry O'Brien trophy in person. And just as the haunting, goose-bump-inducing" WWWAAARRRIIIOOORRRSSS..." chants filled up Quicken Loans Arena, I know I'll never forget those same chants echoing through the streets of Oakland California.
WE. BE. CHAMPIONSHIP.