Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant (35) shoots a 3-point basket over Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love (0) during the second quarter of Game 5 of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, June 12, 2017. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
OAKLAND — Game 4 erased the Warriors’ chance at playoff perfection. Game 5 was attached to plenty of ‘Could this really happen, this way, again?’ angst.
But what always felt inevitable was finally made official late Monday night: the Warriors are NBA champions again, for the second time in three years, clinching the 2017 title with a 129-120 Game 5 putaway of LeBron James and his powerful Cavaliers.
Before the final buzzer sounded, the Warriors shoveled the ball over the Kevin Durant, allowing him to dribble out the clock and bask in the moment, beginning an emotional celebration of the first major sports title won by a Bay Area team at home since 1974.
For Durant, this is long-awaited NBA title No. 1, finally obtained in Year 10, playing for his second franchise. And in these Finals, it was well-earned. He had the dunk-fest in Game 1, the block-fest in Game 2, the iconic 3 in Game 3 and the loud closing statement to help seal Game 5, taking home the Finals MVP trophy.
After another of J.R. Smith’s moonshot 3s, the Cavaliers had it within five to start the fourth quarter. A LeBron layup on the quarter’s first possession cut it to three. You could feel the nervousness circling the building.
But on the following possession, the Warriors just dumped it to Durant high up on the right post and he jab-stepped a defending LeBron and then planted a jumper right over him. The next time down, after a defensive stop, the Warriors went right back to the well and the Cavaliers, fearing the same result, tossed an extra help defender Durant’s way.
Durant perfectly read the situation, fired a cross-court pass into Andre Iguodala’s shooting pocket and the super-sub continued his huge night by burying a 3, jumping the lead back to eight.
The sequence summed up the series, a third version of Warriors-Cavaliers but the first with a Durant injection. Cleveland had an answer for plenty, but not Durant, not in the series-deciding moments.
Durant outplayed LeBron in Game 1 finishing with 38 points and zero turnovers. He backed it up with a 33-point, 13-rebound, 5-block Hakeem Olajuwon-like Game 2, stuffing a Kevin Love post-up to punctuate the dominant win.
Then in Game 3, with the series teetering between a competition and a steamroll, he ripped out Cleveland’s hearts with a 7-0 run in the final minute, highlighted by the shot of his life — and he’s made nearly 7,000 of them in the NBA — a 26-footer from the left wing, one of his favorite spots on the floor, released high above LeBron James’ helpless contest.
Both Durant and the Warriors blew their first closeout chance in Game 4. But they were delivered a prime chance to vanquish that loss — and the 3-1 ghosts that haunted them — at home in Game 5. And though the Cavaliers crawled and LeBron played unbelievably, they were helpless to Durant’s lethal efficiency in the game’s biggest moments, impossible to contain amidst the other stars the Warriors already had.
The Cavaliers had a strong start. But two Durant 3s helped bring the Warriors back in the first half. Then, as Cleveland tried to climb back in the second half, Durant continually delivered jab after jab to stagger the Cavaliers back.
Right after the pass to Iguodala to put the Warriors up eight, Durant nailed a 3 to erase the Kevin Love and-1 seconds prior. When a Kyle Korver 3 with 8:27 left cut it to six, Durant sliced backdoor for an easy dunk, uncontested just like the six dunks he had in the first half of Game 1.
In all, he finished Game 5 with 39 points on 14-of-20 shooting, making five of his eight 3s. He scored more than 30 points in every game in the series. He led the Warriors in rebounds and blocks.
And he dribbled out the clock in that final moment, sealing the win and then — after a congratulatory hug from LeBron James — celebrated with his teammates and family.