CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are set to play at The Q on Christmas Day in a 2:30 tipoff.
The last time they were on the same court, the Cleveland Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA Finals.
After it happened, on June 19, with the Cavs’ stunning 93-89 victory in Game 7 over the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., LeBron James dropped to the court and wept tears of joy.
ABC play-by-play man Mike Breen quipped: “Cleveland’s long sports nightmare has ended. The drought is over.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver told the stunned Oracle Arena crowd: “You just witnessed one of the greatest games in NBA history.”
The Cavs, of course, completed the largest comeback in NBA Finals history, recovering from a 3-1 deficit to force and beat the Warriors in that Game 7.
James, named Finals MVP for the third time and having posted a triple double in the last game, completed a modern American sports fairy tale by delivering to northeast Ohio the first Cavs championship.
Kyrie Irving’s game-winning 3-pointer over Stephen Curry.
James’ block of Andre Iguodala.
Kevin Love’s smothering defense on Curry, the two-time MVP.
Those are the plays you’ve celebrated over the last six months. You’ve seen them each 100 times.
Here are some of the moments you might have forgotten from the night that produced Cleveland’s first major pro sports championship since 1964.
LeBron gets going
Yes, James finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. He scored the game’s final point — his free throw with 10.6 seconds put the game virtually out of reach, save for a Warrior miracle.
But he didn’t start well, something that’s hard to imagine now. Before James slipped free from Curry and attacked the rim with a vicious, two-handed slam with 3:12 left in the first quarter, he was just 1-of-3 shooting with three turnovers.
James ended the quarter with six points, six rebounds, and three assists.
Iman Shumpert would be near the bottom of any list of Cavs you’d expect would make the team’s first and only 3-pointer of the first half in the most important game in franchise history.
Shumpert struggled in the playoffs, averaging only 3.3 points. And yet he caught a kick-out from James, drained his 3-pointer while being fouled by Shaun Livingston, and converted the free throw with 7:02 left.
The play gave the Cavs a 31-29 lead, but the half ended with the Warriors ahead 49-42. Golden State was 10-of-21 from 3-point range to the Cavs’ 1-of-10.
It could’ve been worse. Oh and by what margin did the Cavs ultimately win this game?
The Block, vol. I
You can argue James’ swatting of a Curry layup try with 5:07 left in the second quarter was foreshadowing THE BLOCK of Iguodala later.
You can opine that James’ dismissive, are you kidding me look at Curry after the two were tangled up following the block was James sending a message that he’s still boss in the NBA.
For me, it was more of a metaphor for a theme from the entire game. The Cavs always had an answer for Curry.
Curry scored 17 points and registered four 3-pointers. He also notched an old-fashioned 3-point play in the second quarter when he was fouled on a layup.
After all but one of those Curry 3s, the Cavs scored the next basket.
The Warriors’ longest run of the game was 8-0. They were never able to build off the momentum a Curry 3-ball usually generates.
JR to the rescue
The Warriors won 39 of 41 home games during the regular season. They set an NBA record for wins overall — 73 — and of course were defending champs who were trying to avoid becoming the first team to lose the Finals after going up 3-1 in the series.
So when the Cavs fell behind 54-46 with 10:31 left in the third (their largest deficit), there was great reason for concern.
Enter J.R. Smith, who scored 8 points in the first 2:30 of the quarter, including back-to-back 3s. Smith’s consecutive triples enabled Cleveland to blunt the Warriors’ momentum that had swelled in similar situations all season.
Smith’s outburst brought the Cavs to within two points, until…
The Kyrie quarter
This guy took over. Irving scored 12 of his 26 total points in the third. He blew past Festus Ezeli (remember the name for later) at 8:53 to tie the score at 54 and cap an 8-0 spurt with a layup.
But that play pales in comparison to the ridiculous, off-balance, left-handed banker he pulled off over Draymond Green with 4:43 left. Irving was fouled, of course, and make his free throw. He finished an 11-0 run that put the Cavs ahead 65-59.
Had he not hit THE SHOT, this would’ve been the play of the Finals for Irving.
The Warriors were ahead 87-83 with 5:24 left in the game and riding a 7-0 run (remember all that stuff about being historically good at home and a historically great team? Now, add in a 4-point lead halfway through the final quarter with momentum clearly on Golden State’s side).
And then, Festus Ezeli fouled James on a 3-point try (to view the foul, go to approximately 2:15 on the above clip). Naturally, James made all three foul shots.
You see, Ezeli didn’t commit just the one bone-headed play by fouling James. Making his first start of the playoffs because center Andrew Bogut was injured, Ezeli killed the Warriors. He missed all four of his shots and grabbed just one rebound in 11 minutes, and was a liability on defense, too.
The other culprit in stomping out the Warriors’ fourth-quarter lead and momentum was Curry. The Cavs had not yet overtaken them when Curry brought the ball up the floor and nonchalantly flipped an errant, behind-the-back pass to Klay Thompson that landed out of bounds with 5:16 left (can viewed at :30 in the above clip).
There was simply no reason for Curry to throw the pass, and even less of a reason to be so careless in his attempt.
James buried a 3-pointer on the Cavs’ next possession and Golden State never led again. Curry was 1-of-6 shooting in the quarter.
The final buzzer blared, the Cavs (most notably, Love) mobbed James, the Warriors shuffled off the court in disbelief.
When the team finally gathered on the makeshift stage to accept the Larry O’Brien trophy, one particular player wasn’t in down in front. James, the Cavs’ best player, the Finals MVP, was somewhere in the back when Silver handed the trophy to owner Dan Gilbert.
James eventually emerged into the shot, and his teammates were urging him to go up front and grab the trophy. Lift it up, LeBron, in glory, they urged.
“I can’t,” James said as he shook his head, still overcome with emotion. Of course, he found his way to the front and did indeed hoist that trophy high overhead.
The first rematch happens Sunday.