The Golden State Warriors knocked off the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 for their second title in three years.
It may not have been a Game 7, but Monday night’s Game 5 was a fitting conclusion to end the Warriors-Cavaliers trilogy. We got transcendent performances from the biggest names and it remained exciting up until the final minutes. Plus, JR Smith shot an unconscious 7-8 from beyond the arc, (mostly consisting of off-balance, circus-variety attempts) on his way to 25 points.
It started out a little sloppy, with the teams combining for 11 first-quarter turnovers. It was also a tightly-called game, as Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Love landed two fouls a piece and hit the bench accordingly. However, the game loosened up once it got rolling.
While foul trouble plagued some of the stars in the first quarter, Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, and Steph Curry all stormed out of the gates, each with a dozen points in the opening frame. It all stacked up to be another high-octane slugfest, with Cleveland looking primed to steal a second-straight game.
Of course, this would have made the ghosts of 2016’s 3-1 comeback go from humming murmurs to thunderous rumblings around the basketball world. But despite the Cavaliers’ strong start, no team could turn an opposition’s momentum around faster than the Golden State Warriors. From about the 10-minute mark in the second quarter up to halftime, Golden State went on a plus-20 run.
The Cavs put up 60 at half… and still found themselves trailing by 11. They’d make it interesting for sure and keep it close, but unfortunately for them, Golden State would never relinquish the lead.
Kevin Durant made all the difference. Forget about where you stand on Durant’s decision to join Golden State, and appreciate everything he did on the court in Game 5. Every single time the Cavaliers got close and gained energy, Durant stopped it in its tracks by knocking down a huge shot. He put up at least 30 in every Finals game and slapped up 39 in the championship-sealing Game 5.
He stepped up every time it mattered. Plain and simple. This was the reason they brought him to the Bay, and he made plays few in the histoy of the league could make. Curry was fantastic throughout the postseason, but Durant was the real MVP.
Kevin Love will (unfairly) be made the scapegoat for Cleveland’s defeat. Yes, Love had a bad game, scoring only six points amid foul trouble and ineffectiveness. But Love had his best season as a Cavalier, averaging 19 and 11 during the regular season, and 17.5 and 10.6 over the playoffs. The Cavaliers fell to the Warriors in five games because they were a lesser team, not because of Love.
Still, Love isn’t devoid of shortcomings and you can easily envision Cleveland optimizing its roster (and cap situation) by dealing him this summer for more wing help. For the star power that Love brings, he’s slow-footed and, at best, a net neutral on defense. In a series like this one, all that gets exposed. When LeBron James peers out across the NBA landscape, he knows this Golden State team is the likely final boss for the foreseeable future. As good as Love is, he doesn’t possess the required skills to combat the Warriors.
When either LeBron or Irving were out of the game, Cleveland had trouble getting stops or putting together a consistent offense. I have a sneaking suspicion GM LeBron will look to reshuffle his championship deck by liquidating Love for a package of two-way players in the offseason.
The Warriors are genuinely scary. They will bury you under an avalanche of points, crisp passing, and a deluge of 3’s. They’ll occasionally have bouts of turnover issues, but when things are clicking on all cylinders, they’re like a cheat code in NBA 2K. They play the beautiful game with an amalgam of incendiary skills and unselfishness.
If they can keep their core together and get reasonable injury luck, they should be the favorites to win the title for the rest of the decade. Not one, not two…