Game 5 of the NBA Finals saw Golden State snap back into their characteristic overall team play to take the 2017 NBA Championship Trophy, taking control in the fourth period and besting Cleveland 129 – 120.
Kevin Durant, his 10th year in the league, was the MVP of the finals and after an off game in Game 4, was back in spectacular form, leaving no doubt that he earned the trophy. Durant, who came to the Warriors this year from Oklahoma City, joined the ranks of 5 other NBA greats to score 30 or more points throughout a finals series, topping his series average of 35.2 tonight with 39.
Remarkable as well were his 5 of 8 baskets from behind the arc, which factored into his 14 of 20 from the field. But Durant had a complete game, frustrating the Cavs on the defensive end of the court as well.
Cleveland started off hot and stayed that way through the first quarter, but late in the 2nd, the Warriors began clicking with a 21-2 run to go into halftime, leading 71-60. From that point on through the second half, Golden State never trailed – at one point ahead of the Cavs by 17 points. Cleveland never stopped attempting to battle back, but as in their other 3 losses in the finals, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were just not enough to overcome a Western Conference champ that plays cohesively as a team – even with few sparks from J.R. Smith (25 points).
Stephen Curry came back to life in Game 5 with 34 points and 10 assists. However, it was the collective contributions of the Warriors as a team that sealed Cleveland’s fate. Golden State got great minutes from Draymond Green, who redeemed himself from Game 5 last year and had 10 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. LeBron and the Cavs tried to trash talk Green into losing it, but Green stayed focused and did his part in the win.
Everyone else on the Warriors was solid, but it was performances like that of Andre Iguodala, scoring 20 points and keeping James in check as much as anyone keeps James in check defensively, that showed the difference that Steve Kerr’s team play concept makes. Of course, the players have to buy into that, but their regular season record even when Durant was out for a stretch and their 16-1 finals run, shows the dividends of Kerr’s approach to the game.
And the Warriors played magnificently down the stretch and through Game 2 of the Warriors – Cavs match for Mike Brown, former Cleveland head coach, while Kerr was not able to lead the team from late April with a re-occurrence of extreme pain from a previous back surgery.
LeBron, if the Cavs had been able to deliver a complete team effort, as they did in Game 4 and stage a miraculous run, would have been the series MVP, averaging a triple-double in the finals with 33.6 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. Said James in his post game interview, echoing his thoughts after the first 3 games against Golden State:
“I have no reason to look back at what I could have done or what I should have done or what I could have done better for the team. I left everything I had out on the floor every single game for five games in these finals, and you come up short.”
James has his place in NBA history, but Durant, Curry and the Warriors have everything in front of them now, sending every team in the West and the East back to the drawing board to try to figure out how they are going to compete.
The reaction of the league at the beginning of the year, was bizarre, in that Golden State and Kerr, were criticized for being too loaded with talent. Durant also got his share from other players who thought he was too ambitious and should have stayed put with the Thunder. None of that talk matters to the Warriors or their fans. Playing well and collecting jewelry is the best answer to critics. Let them talk.
My favorite visual of tonight’s final of the finals is Kevin’s mom, Wanda, who has been a driving force behind him from the tender age of 8, when Kevin told her he’d grow up to get an NBA championship ring.