Kurt Helin

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.

Stephen Curry with the block, then the bucket (VIDEO)

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OAKLAND — Game 7 has lived up to the hype.

While Draymond Green has been the star for the Warriors (28 points through three quarters) Stephen Curry had a personal 5-0 run in the middle of the third capped by this pay.

The score was 76-75 Warriors after three.

LeBron James rejects Stephen Curry shot, and they exchange words. Again.

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OAKLAND — We’ve seen this movie before.

Stephen Curry drove the lane in transition during the second quarter, and LeBron James was lurking. He rejected the ball into the first row. We’ve seen it before these Finals.

This time Curry talked a little to LeBron, Draymond Green stepped in just to play Switzerland, and there was a little jawing. Nothing more. But it sets the stage for the second half.

The Warriors lead 49-42 at the half behind a monster 22-point half from Green.