On Sunday, the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors, 93–89, to win the NBA championship. Here are some of our favorite moments.
Cried. Cried at things, and people. Cried at LeBron crying on TV, cried at my wife, cried at the cat, cried at Twitter, cried at the Cavs’ Spanish-language announcer crying, cried at the kids shooting bottle rockets over my house in the suburbs two hours south of the Q. Cried thinking of my parents — lifelong Cavs-Browns-Indians fans — who are somewhere in the Q’s vicinity right now, probably spraying wine on people; cried thinking of my little brother, who religiously followed the Cavs even in the post-LeBron years. Cried remembering sitting at my grandpa’s house, watching the Browns lose to the Broncos multiple times in multiple grotesque ways; cried remembering stomping out of my dorm room when the Indians lost to the Marlins, stomping out of the building, stomping out into the night. Cried on the drive up I-71 to join my folks, a 131.7-mile trip I knocked out in a cool 20 minutes; cried when I stole this fire truck and did doughnuts in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame parking lot. This is misinformation; I stole a fire truck. Is your house on fire? Do you need a ride somewhere, or a drink? Just flag me down if you see me; I’ll be the guy hanging off the ladder in a MARK PRICE IS RIGHT T-shirt, crying. — Rob Harvilla
It was the fourth quarter of Game 7 and time had lost all meaning. The score was tied at 89 for five years. Maybe six. Maybe a thousand. The game had been going on for an hour, or forever, or maybe everything we’d experienced had been an illusion happening in the synaptic flickers of the mind of a dreaming unicorn.
Let’s see, going to my notes (written in an increasingly frazzled script):
4:53 — LeBron hits a 3, seemingly by sheer force of will. (Though we can’t rule out the amplifying presence of Festus Ezeli, a man with a fun name who graduated from high school at 14, who has much to offer the world as a person, but who, with his every move, breath, and deed, killed his team like a human-shaped cyanide pill.) It is LeBron’s first made 3 in five attempts, and the whole world ceases to exist.
4:39 — The Warriors won 73 regular-season games. This is an obvious point, but also one that can’t be said enough. Ezeli may have shrunken down to the size of a quark under the black-hole gravity of the moment, but the Dubs still have any number of options. The ball pings around the perimeter, where it settles into the hands of Klay Thompson. He sheds J.R. Smith like a loose cardigan and lays it up. Bucket. 89–89.
4:36 to 1:55 — Exhaustion. Doubt, keenly felt from both sides. Lots of fear. Around the world, many people are, for the first time, passing on sex to watch sports. Ezeli exits the game for Harrison Barnes, which is like trading cyanide for arsenic.
Time stops, then starts again. No one scores. Each team asks the ball to please go in, then begs, then demands. Nothing happens. There is a palpable sense that the next basket will win the game. Klay misses a jumper. LeBron misses a layup. I kind of hate Pat Riley (still), but these are the moments when he’d throw out the X’s and O’s and simply harangue his team at the top of lungs, question their heart, balls, soul, ability to cook an omelet. That’s what was needed here: for someone to do whatever was needed, to push his team through a game that had grown into a monstrous dagger-toothed meat grinder of reputations and bodies. Draymond misses a 3. Kyrie lofts a speculative rainbow that falls off the iron and into the mosh pit under the basket. Iguodala emerges with the ball. He sprints down court. Smith is the only Cavalier back. Iggy passes to Steph, then gets it right back. Andre skins Smith with a sidestep and rises to the cup …
1:50 — I see god. The clouds above the arena part in a crack of thunder mingled with the sound of Phil Knight laughing hysterically. LeBron James drops from the sky and pins Iguodala’s shot to the backboard, his hand like — I don’t know — 10 feet above the square. It’s like the stories you hear about how a parent could lift a burning car off their child. It’s like watching Hercules go, “I’m going to clean these stables,” then roll up the sleeves of his toga and do it.
It’s James’s third block of the game. — Jason Concepcion
This was the shot that essentially won Cleveland the championship, and I think Steph Curry knew it. Watch the bump — the little hip check that Kyrie Irving throws as the ball goes through the net. Everything about the back half of this Finals is in that bump: Cleveland’s resilience and Golden State’s … just-not-right-ness.
After a postseason in which he was declared dead weight, a flat-track bully, a defensive liability (and that was just me, in my living room), after a 5–14 Game 2 performance that prompted jokes like this …
… Kyrie Irving proved every doubter wrong. He averaged 25 points per game this postseason, with a 24.7 PER. He poured in 17 points in the second half of Game 7 and kept the Cavs afloat when it looked like LeBron was saving himself for the closing few minutes. (Yo … that worked!?) You watch Kyrie’s shimmy and handle, and then the brazen balls it took to heave that shot in the first place, and it’s tempting to say that he was out-cooking the Chef. But that’s not right. Over the last three games, he shot 55 percent in isolation plays. Irving was great because he was the best version of himself. Don’t call him Steph Curry MK II. After last night, Kyrie gets to be Kyrie. — Chris Ryan
So Kyrie hit a 3 to put the Cavs up 92–89 with 53 seconds left, sending Clevelanders into a state of frenzied incredulity: Is this how the curse ends? Is it safe to take the champagne off ice? The other shoe is going to drop soon, isn’t it?
It did — or at least it seemed to — on the Cavs’ very next possession:
This could only happen to Cleveland. Only Cleveland sports fans could get so close to a championship only to see LeBron James injure his wrist with 10 seconds remaining in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. And even if the Cavs did end up winning, LeBron wouldn’t be on the floor to celebrate.
But then an unexpected thing happened. A very un-Cleveland thing. — Matt Borcas
LeBron at the Charity Stripe
Sure, the Cavs were up three, the clock down to 10 ticks. A make was just insurance. Still, it felt weird — as snakebit as you can call a Finals-clinching triple-double. The best player on the planet deserved the chance to ice a gut-check game and a masterful series. So LeBron shook it off and calmly buried the game ender. Prosaic stuff, but somehow he made “LeBron James makes free throw 2 of 2” look like poetry. — Sam Schube
Kevin Love Forms a Fucking Wall
We saw it, what, 50 times this season? The Warriors gin up enough switches that Stephen Curry gets the ball at the top of the arc with a hopeless big man on his island. A couple stop-starts and crossovers turn a typically world-class athlete into a moose wearing ice skates. The joke’s already been made, but Curry throws in an extra punch line by flipping in another 3.
With 45 seconds left and the Cavs up three, we were about to see Curry go through his traditional stand-up. And Kevin Love, once again, was about to become cannon fodder. But on the biggest defensive possession of his life, Love scrambled his feet fast enough to stay upright. Curry cycled the ball out, got it back, and he wasn’t gonna miss his beat twice, right? Instead, Love somehow kept the friction going and forced Curry into a twisting jumper that bounced off the right edge of the rim.
For whatever reason — injuries, scheme, a leaguewide philosophical sea change, passive-aggressive social media tomfoolery — Love hasn’t been the superstar that Cleveland thought it was getting from Minnesota. Up until tonight, his time in the Rust Belt would’ve been mostly remembered for his dissolution in the Finals and Vines of him looking clueless against the pick-and-roll. Of course, Cleveland didn’t trade for Love because of his perimeter defense, but it did get him to win a championship. With a ring, a plus-19 in Game 7 and that one vital defensive stand, maybe the joke is finally on us. — Ryan O’Hanlon
Draymond Green’s Splash Brothers Imitation
With the game tied at 38 late in the second quarter, Draymond Green caught a whip-spun pass from Andre Iguodala and knocked down his fifth consecutive 3-pointer, giving him 19 points and the Warriors a three-point lead. He flexed, he barked, he lived. Golden State would extend its lead to seven at halftime, and an air of inevitability began intoxicating the yellowed masses in Oracle Arena. They’re different at home.
The Warriors had not lost consecutive games at Oracle this season, or three straight games under Steve Kerr ever. In the first half, they were doing as they do — playing small, hitting more 3s than 2s, and rolling as Dray rolled. Green hit at least five triples in a game three times this season, all wins; he made at least five 3s three more times during this postseason. After a playoffs in which he acted as both a lightning rod and the lightning, Green was particularly electrifying tonight, going for 32–15–9 with two steals and just two turnovers — all while flailing around in the paint beside living tree trunk Tristan Thompson and a Jon Snow–ed Kevin Love. He also had a few showdowns with the greatest basketball player on earth.
It wasn’t enough. “You think about, ‘What if …’” Green said after the game. Take away, say, a rainbow 3 from Kyrie and maybe Draymond is clutching a trophy, the subject of a new crying meme, and probably a Finals MVP. Instead, he was forced to tap out. — Sean Fennessey
J.R. Smith’s Back-to-Back 3s
The Cavaliers had hit a single (lone, solitary) 3 until J.R. Smith hit two of them things back-to-back in the third quarter for six of his 12 points, and I was honestly surprised that the world didn’t cease to spin or, like, tilt 47 degrees in the opposite direction. Of course, he stayed true to form by giving up a few stupid fouls on the perimeter. So the elusive J.R. Smith Podium Game didn’t happen, but that’s the Earl Experience, you know?
HOWEVER. Take a deep breath and repeat after me: J.R. Smith is an NBA champion. J.R. Smith is an NBA champion. J.R. Smith is an NBA champion. After 12 long, barren years in the league, he collapsed on the court in tears after the whistle, and it was beautiful. But after the tears had dried and the postgame interviews were over, he ran to the locker room screaming, “I don’t wanna hear shit all summer! All summer!” That was arguably more beautiful. — Micah Peters