June 19, 2016
The city of Cleveland can exhale. There’s finally a sports moment to celebrate.
It was tough, historically so, as the Cavaliers became the only team ever to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals.
It happened Sunday at Oracle Arena. It really did, Cleveland.
Soon enough, a teary-eyed James clutched the championship trophy near half court, finally winning something for his hometown team. This was important to him.
“Absolutely. Just knowing what our city has been through, northeast Ohio has been through, as far as our sports and everything for the last 50-plus years,” James said, quickly mentioning past shortcomings of all of Cleveland’s teams.
“Our fans, they ride or die, no matter what’s been going on. For us to be able to end this drought, our fans deserve it. It was for them.”
James was a one-man story of redemption, growing up in Akron, getting drafted by Cleveland out of high school and later leaving to win two championships with Miami before returning to the Cavaliers two years ago.
Fans hated when he left for the Heat, even burning his jersey in front of TV cameras, but James delivered the ultimate apology.
Or perhaps Cleveland fans should apologize to him. James was the easy choice for Finals most valuable player, averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists. Throw in his 2.6 steals and 2.3 blocked shots a game to realize the totality of his play.
“Once we get to a Game 7, I’ll take my chances versus anybody, versus any team,” James said after logging 47 minutes Sunday against the 2015 champions. “You give me one game, you give me 48 minutes, I’ll take my chances.”
There had been no championship celebrations in Cleveland since the Browns won the 1964 NFL title.
Hearts were shattered by the Drive and the Fumble in the Super Bowl era. The Indians hadn’t won the World Series since 1948. The Cavaliers hadn’t raised any championship banners in 45 previous years of existence, James unsuccessfully taking them to the NBA Finals in 2007 and 2015.
On Sunday, though, James handily outdueled Golden State’s Curry, who was limited to 17 points on six-for-19 shooting, including two failed, if not rushed, off-balance three-point shots in the final minutes.
“I was aggressive but in the wrong ways. It will haunt me for a while,” said Curry, who had only one standout game in the Finals after an MVP regular season.
Kyrie Irving continued his solid play for Cleveland, scoring 26 points. His three-point basket with 53 seconds left broke a tie at 89.
Golden State lost only three games at home before dropping Games 5 and 7 at Oracle Arena.
The Warriors had only 13 fourth-quarter points Sunday, a staggering drop-off for a team that could just as easily triple that number in any given quarter.
Listening to their players beforehand, it was clear that only a victory Sunday would have prevented the season from becoming a failure after a record 73-9 mark before the playoffs.
Klay Thompson missed eight of 10 three-point shots and finished with 14 points. Draymond Green was the only Warriors player with any consistency, scoring 32 points with nine assists and adding 15 rebounds.
“We had a great regular season, did something no team’s done before,” Curry said. “It hurts, man. That’s all I’m really marinating on right now.”
An added historical footnote — road teams had been an unsteady 3-15 in Finals Game 7s, failing to win one since Washington beat Seattle in 1978.
It was James, however, who had one of the game nets draped around his neck when he met with reporters.
Wednesday’s champion- ship parade will be “the biggest party that Cleveland’s ever seen,” he said.
It’s true. Cleveland finally has itself a champion.