June 9, 2018, 12:15 am
The NBA’s latest dynasty has officially staked another claim as its greatest. The Golden State Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 108-85 on Friday night, winning their second consecutive championship with a four-game sweep of their long-time rival – a team that’s likely to look far, far different this time next year.
Coming into Game 4, the Finals’ only remaining intrigue was how quickly the Warriors would dispatch of the Cavaliers, and who would be named MVP whenever they did it. Steph Curry made that choice difficult for voters, setting an energetic, aggressive tone for Golden State from the opening tip – especially crucial given the Warriors were blow out under these exact circumstances last year. He had 37 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals on Friday, connecting on 7-of-15 from beyond the arc in the process. Just like 2015 and 2017, though, the voters chose one of Curry’s teammates for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy instead.
Kevin Durant was a worthy choice, too. He was the epitome of Golden State’s two-way excellence in Game 4, finishing with 20 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and three blocks. This was easily his best individual effort guarding LeBron James in the Finals, too. Durant averaged 28.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 2.3 blocks per game against Cleveland. He shot 52.6 percent overall and 40.9 percent from three, en route to a true shooting percentage of 65.4 – over nine points higher than Curry’s, whose Game 3 clunker likely cost him the award.
Durant’s Finals MVP, by the way, puts him rarified air. He becomes the 11th player in league history to win the award, joining the likes of Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan and James. Say what you will about Durant’s decision to join the 73-win team that beat him, but his place among the game’s historical elite has already been cemented.
7.5 assists pic.twitter.com/ePTZam47Jq
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) June 9, 2018
The Cavaliers, of course, deserve credit for getting to a fourth straight matchup with the Warriors altogether. They not only needed seven games to dispatch of the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs, but were outscored by a whopping 40 points in the series. Cleveland looked helpless against the Boston Celtics at times in the Eastern Conference Finals, with each of their losses coming by at least 13 points. But the Celtics are a far different team on the road, and James rescued the Cavaliers with a Game 7 performance at T.D. Garden that Ty Lue called the best of his career.
James, who had 23 points, seven rebounds and eight assists, in Game 3 has never endured a more arduous road to June. To do what he did against Golden State, averaging 34.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 10 assists per game on 52.5 percent shooting without a star running mate, should be considered one of the most notable accomplishments of his career. But it won’t be, of course, as much for Cleveland getting swept as the uncertain nature of his playing future. The Cavaliers aren’t nearly good enough to compete with the Warriors as currently constructed, and have limited means of upward mobility. James very well just might have played his last game in wine and gold again.
Cleveland fans knew it, too, rising to their feet and serenading James with chants of “MVP! MVP! MVP!” as he checked out of the game with 4:03 remaining.
Cleveland gives LeBron a standing ovation as he leaves the court for what could be his last game in a Cavs jersey… pic.twitter.com/2sI5Tw53no
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 9, 2018
There’s an unescapable sense of resignation to this result. The Warriors entered 2017-18 as overwhelming title favorites, and the Cavaliers were the biggest underdog in the history of the Finals. But those realities, forecasted as they were, completely ignore the grind it took for Golden State to repeat as champions.
Curry played only 51 games during the regular season, and didn’t make his playoff debut until Game 2 of the second round. Durant and Draymond Green combined for 29 technicals and eight ejections, evidence of complacent frustration gleaned from getting through the doldrums of the 82-game drudgery. The Warriors entered the playoffs losing 10 of their last 18 games. The Houston Rockets were up 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals, and led Golden State by 11 points at halftime of a Game 7 played at Toyota Center.
“This is the hardest year we’ve had of the three championships,” Kerr said on the postgame championship podium. “By far.”
All titles are won differently, and the Warriors’ third in four years came harder than their last. There’s no telling how many more Larry O’Brien trophies this group will hoist. After a summer of re-tooling the bottom half of its roster, Golden State, possessing less quality depth this season than ever before, should be even better next season. It may seem like the Warriors have been doing this forever; four seasons of dominance makes time slow to a crawl. We’re right in the middle of Golden State’s dynasty, though. It is far, far from over.
The entire league will be coming for the Warriors again next fall. And hopefully, wherever James is playing, he’ll have a realistic chance to dethrone them.