Kurt Helin

Cavaliers’ Richard Jefferson announces retirement after Game 7 win

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OAKLAND — Talk about going out on top.

After an NBA Finals where the veteran journeyman ended up playing a key role for the Cavaliers, allowing them to go small and match up with the Warriors for stretches, Richard Jefferson decided this was the time to retire. Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer broke the news.

Jefferson played 15 NBA seasons after Houston drafted him 13th out of Arizona back in 2001. He averaged 13.3 points per game for his career, with the high coming in 2008 when he averaged 22.6 for the Nets.

After the game, he talked about LeBron James and what he meant to Jefferson’s career.

“I’ll give you a little walk down right now,” Jefferson said. “I lost the national championship game to Duke, then I lost two straight NBA Finals (with the Nets), then my third year we lost to Detroit after being up 3-2 and they won the championship, then I lost to Miami and they won the championship, then to top it off I went to the Olympics and we were the worst (American) team of all time.

“My whole career has been so, so close. Then I had a stretch of six to seven years where you become a little bit of a journeyman. To be able to get on a team and walk in with a guy that says he’s going to be able to carry you and bring me here, I owe everything, every shot, every play, everything I’ve ever done to that man.”

Golden State looks back at Game 5 with regret, as moment they lost series

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OAKLAND — Golden State had just closed out a Game 4 win on the road in Cleveland, taken a 3-1 series lead, and the Cavaliers looked beaten. You could see in in their body language, their tone when speaking after the game. Nothing they had tried seemed to be working on the court, and the Warriors were about to go home where they were nearly invincible this season. The series appeared all but over.

Then news of Draymond Green suspension for hitting LeBron James below the belt came down, and the door cracked open a little. LeBron James took that as an invitation and blew the door off its hinges, pulling his Cavaliers teammates through that opening and to Cleveland’s first title.

After the game, the Warriors admitted Game 5 was where the series got away from them.

“This is why you can’t mess around,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after Game 7. “Not that we messed around, but this is why every game counts. Game 5 was really the key. That was the turning point of the whole series. We didn’t play well enough to win. It was a tough game for us with the circumstances, and I thought they had two guys who played epic games, Kyrie (Irving) and LeBron. And that changed the whole series.

“But with that said, I thought we were going to take care of business tonight at home, and we just couldn’t get it done.”

It all started with Green’s suspension.

“If I don’t put myself in that position, and I don’t get suspended for Game 5, are we sitting here champions? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know,” Green said. “But we’ll never know the answer to that question. But the answer that I do know is I won’t put myself in that position again, and that’s all I can really do, you know.”

Green tried to make up for it in Game 7, he was the best player the Warriors had. Green finished with 32 points on 15 shots, had 15 rebounds and nine assists. He was the best player on the Warriors in their biggest game. It wasn’t enough.

There was more to Cleveland’s comeback this series than simply Green being out Game 5. There was Tyronn Lue’s coaching moves, such as having LeBron James cover Draymond Green to allow for switches that cut off the Warriors’ best play. Cleveland got better at exploiting mismatches, and Golden State couldn’t counter. Andrew Bogut‘s injury. And on down the list.

But it all started in Game 5 with the Green suspension. Does he blame himself?

“As you know, I blame myself for everything,” Green said, later admitting this loss may stick with him the rest of his life. “That’s just who I am. I think as a leader that’s important. Hey, I’m not afraid to take the blame. I do think that’s where the series turned, but it happened. Move on from it. Like I said, I learned from it, and I’ll be better.

“But I’m not afraid to say that it’s my fault. I think it was.

“But this ain’t the last that you’ll see from us.”

LeBron James unanimous Finals MVP after legacy-cementing series

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OAKLAND — There was 1:50 left in Game 7 of the NBA Finals and it was tied, 89-89.

Kyrie Irving had missed a floater in the lane, four Cavaliers were down around the offensive glass, and the ball bounced out to Andre Iguodala, who took the rebound and was off to the races. He pushed the ball up court, passed to Stephen Curry who gave it right back, and it looked like Iguodala had a clear path to the layup that would put the Warriors ahead.

Then LeBron James happened.

That play was a microcosm of the entire 2016 NBA Finals.

Golden State was up 3-1, going home and seemingly in control. A repeat title seemed inevitable.

Then LeBron James happened. The Warriors didn’t see him coming and couldn’t do anything to stop him.

After back-to-back 41-point games that carried the series to seven games, LeBron posted a triple-double in Game 7 — 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. He wasn’t just the best player on the court, he reminded everyone that he is the most dominant force in basketball right now, one of the all-time greats. LeBron was an absolute force of nature for the final three games of the series. He silenced his critics (well, at least for a day).

He was the obvious and unanimous choice as Finals MVP.

He cemented his legacy, adding to a long list of accomplishments being the man who brought Cleveland its first major professional sports title in more than five decades. He broke down in tears while holding the Larry O’Brien trophy because of that.

“I’m true to the game, and I know what I bring to the table,” LeBron said after the game, holding his daughter in his hands. “I came back for a reason. I came back to bring a championship to our city. I knew what I was capable of doing. I knew what I learned in the last couple years that I was gone, and I knew if I had to — when I came back, I knew I had the right ingredients and the right blueprint to help this franchise get back to a place that we’ve never been. That’s what it was all about.”

LeBron averaged ridiculous numbers through the Finals: 29.7 points, 8.9 assists, 11.3 rebounds, 2.6 steals, and 2.3 blocks per game. In the three elimination games for his Cavs this series he averaged 36.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks a night LeBron’s game has always been about how he wasn’t just elite at one thing, he is elite at nearly everything. He showed that this series.

But that wasn’t his biggest contribution; it was his leadership that convinced the rest of his teammates that a historic comeback was possible.

“Learning from a guy like that is amazing … that guy led us all year,” Kyrie Irving said. “He knew what it took and how to lead us. We all just took it from there. We all were great in our roles.”

“For me, when I came up (to the interview podium) after we lost Game 4 at home, I said, hey, listen, we’ve got to take one possession, one game at a time,” LeBron said. “We’re going to Golden State, so we’ve got to fly home anyways, so why not have another game? And I believed in that. And my guys believe in me as their leader every single day. I preach to them every single day. I’m their leader, and they allow me to lead those guys every single night. I was just true to that….

“I told my guys before the game: Listen, there is a game to be played, but there’s not many guys, there’s not many teams that get an opportunity to be in the NBA Finals in a Game 7. There’s just not….” LeBron said. “I just told the guys: Don’t take this for granted. Don’t take it for granted. Let’s go out. Our coaching staff gave us a great plan; let’s go execute it.”

Over the past few days, and after the win, several Cavaliers talked about the sense of calm LeBron exuded despite the long odds of a comeback. How did he do that?

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” LeBron said. “I can sit up here and say — I don’t know if it was “The Godfather,” I don’t know if it was “Couples Retreat” that I watched, I don’t know if it was “Ocean’s 11, 12, and 13,” I don’t know if it was the “Revenge of the Nerds” that I watched. I really don’t know.

But I was just so like, listen, you’ve put everything into the game. The game always gives back to people that’s true to the game. I’ve watched it. I know the history of the game, and I was just calm. I was calm. I was focused. I was locked in.”

This was LeBron’s third Finals MVP (he got the award both times he won in Miami). He joins some select company, the only players to win three or more Finals MVPs are Michael Jordan (six), Shaquille O’Neal (three), Tim Duncan (three) and Magic Johnson (three).

“LeBron, he deserves it. He’s a hard worker. He’s been the face of the NBA for 13 years…” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “The biggest thing with LeBron and the reason why I say he deserves it is because of the person that he is. He’s a giver. He’s always looking to take care of people. He’s always been nice to everyone. If anyone deserves it, LeBron James definitely deserves it.”

He does deserve it.

And he has given Cleveland sports fans what they wanted most.

Kyrie Irving with step-back three game winner over Stephen Curry (VIDEO)

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OAKLAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers don’t win the NBA championship without MVP LeBron James playing some of the best basketball in NBA Finals history.

But it was Kyrie Irving who had the step-back game winner — the NBA title winner.

The Cavaliers played a lot of isolation basketball in this series, arguably too much at times, but this is a team with players comfortable in that style. Irving is one of those, and he made it count when it mattered.

“We missed shots down the stretch, they missed shots down the stretch, but they hit the big one, Kyrie’s three,” Draymond Green said.

LeBron James wins one for Cleveland — Cavaliers beat Warriors 93-89 to win NBA title

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OAKLAND — There will be no more questioning of LeBron James‘ legacy.

He played three of the best games in NBA Finals history back-to-back-to-back — including a Game 7 triple-double of 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. It earned him the NBA Finals MVP Award. It earned the Cavaliers the first-ever comeback from 3-1 down in the NBA Finals. The Cavaliers looked like a beaten team after those first four games, but the suspension of Draymond Green opened the door a crack and LeBron blasted that door open and pulled his teammates through.

He got help, most notably Sunday from a Kyrie Irving step-back three with :53 seconds left that ended up being the game-winner. The Cavaliers held the Warriors scoreless for the final 4:39 of the game, with the Warriors scoring 13 points in the fourth total. Cleveland executed better on both ends when it mattered most in a Game 7.

“Really it was a couple of key plays,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of the fourth quarter advantage. “Kyrie hit an incredible shot, really well contested, and then LeBron had the two plays back-to-back where he got fouled on the three and then made a three. That kind of swung things in their favor.”

Cleveland won the NBA Finals with a 93-89 victory Sunday in as entertaining and close a Game 7 as any of us may ever see.

It is the first title ever for the Cavaliers.

It is the first for the city of Cleveland in any major sport since 1964.

“I told my guys before the game: Listen, there is a game to be played, but there’s not many guys, there’s not many teams that get an opportunity to be in the NBA Finals in a Game 7. There’s just not….” LeBron said. “I just told the guys: Don’t take this for granted. Don’t take it for granted. Let’s go out. Our coaching staff gave us a great plan; let’s go execute it.”

One year ago, it was the Warriors celebrating on Cleveland’s home court, this year the Cavs flipped the script. Kerr said his team was stunned.

The Cavaleirs did it by attacking inside all night — Cleveland had 48 points in the paint, 20 more than the Warriors.

Golden State tried to balance that out with threes, but in the fourth the Cavaliers overplayed the perimeter and the Warriors did not make them pay with back cuts and dives to the rim (as they had done to so many teams throughout the season). When the Warriors needed a three late, Stephen Curry could not shake free of Kevin Love for a good look, and at the other end LeBron ended the game with a free throw following a painful fall after Draymond Green foul on a dunk attempt.

“A lot of it was kind of myself kind of leading the charge and settling too much,” Curry said postgame. “At home in the fourth quarter, I felt like we could go for that dagger punch and didn’t really put any pressure on the defense getting to the paint and trying to force the issue that way, and really just kind of settled too much. That’s something that is tough to kind of swallow with the opportunity we had in front of us.”

This game was not always pretty — Game 7s rarely are — but the Cavaliers attacked, and played with more force and grit.

Golden State’s Festus Ezeli got the start (to preserve Andre Iguodala’s sore back for later in the game), and the Warriors went to him a few times early because the help came from his man — and he was 0-of-3, two of them missed dunks (one blocked by Tristan Thompson). Plus Kevin Love literally ripped a rebound out of his hands. Love was not much better, starting 1-of-4. So both were out midway through the first and it was a small ball game. In the first quarter the Warriors hit five threes, but they shot 33 percent inside the arc and the Cavaliers owned the glass, 16 to nine. Love had seven boards on his own. The result was a 23-22 Cavs lead after one.

The second quarter was dramatic, but close most of the way — the Warriors kept hitting threes (10-of-21 in the first half), the Cavaliers kept getting buckets inside and some old-fashioned three-point plays. The drama included LeBron rejecting a Curry shot, again, and a little trash talk.

But the story of the first half was Draymond Green, who had 22 points hitting 5-of-5 from three, plus six rebounds and five assists. He pushed the Warriors out to a 49-42 halftime lead.

Green finished the game with 32 points on 11-of-15 shooting, plus he had 15 points and nine assists. But the Warriors were not going to win this game unless he got help, and he never did. For the game Curry had 17 points on 19 shots, Klay Thompson had 14 points on 17 shots.

Cleveland started the second half on a 12-5 run behind two threes from J.R. Smith and more poor play from Ezeli, and the score was quickly tied 54-54. But Curry answered that with a 5-0 personal run that included a blocked shot on defense.

Cleveland had its own 11-0 run in the middle of the third pushed their lead out to six points, and it was really all about them exposing Anderson Varejao on both ends of the court (the Warriors missed the injured Andrew Bogut badly this game). Barnes finally came in and scored the next four points for Warriors. It didn’t take long before the game was tied 71-71, and at the end of three it was 76-75 Warriors after three.

Midway through fourth, the Cavaliers were up three, and Oracle was nervous. The Warriors were swinging the ball to open players, as they have all season, but the open shots from role players were not knocking down the shots they had all season to propel the Warriors to 73 wins.

So Stephen Curry hit a contested three. Next trip down the court, Klay Thompson hit one. The Splash Brothers had the Warriors up three. But when it mattered most, the Warriors went cold in the face of the Cavaliers’ pressure defense (in a way they did not against Oklahoma City last round).

“I thought both teams played exceptional defense in the fourth quarter,” Kerr said. “Shots were hard to come by. The few that we did have that were open we weren’t able to knock down. But this is kind of how it goes in Game 7.”

“We missed shots down the stretch, they missed shots down the stretch, but they hit the big one, Kyrie’s three,” Green said.

Cleveland made enough plays to earn the win.

And bring the first title to Northeast Ohio in 52 years.