With just under two minutes left in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, the Warriors and Cavaliers were tied at 89.
Kyrie Irving attempted to put the Cavaliers ahead, but he missed a layup, and Golden State’s Andre Iguodala corralled the rebound with the intent to push the ball. Iguodala fired a pass to Stephen Curry, who started a two-on-one fast break toward J.R. Smith, the only Cavalier back on defense. Curry passed the ball back to Iguodala, who went up for a go-ahead layup, only to be blocked by LeBron James in one of the most incredible defensive plays in Finals history.
The play was as spectacular as it was meaningful. The Warriors hadn’t scored in over two minutes before James's block, and wouldn’t score again for the rest of regulation, failing to convert and put pressure on the Cavaliers. How did the play go down? Here’s a close look at James’s athletic brilliance:
Let’s start with the rebound. Look at James, who was in the corner on the play, already at a bit of a disadvantage as he reacts to Iguodala:
As the play progresses, James seems to be focused more on Curry, who’s a threat to pull up from three even while on the fast break:
But Curry—smartly—gives the ball back to Iguodala. At this point, Iguodala is receiving the ball near the elbow while James is still on the wing at the three-point line:
Once Iguodala starts his gather in the paint, James is on the opposite side of the lane, above the free-throw line, seemingly in no position to block anything:
That’s when the unsung hero of this play, Smith, perhaps changed the course of NBA history. Smith contested Iguodala’s layup without fouling, forcing Iguodala to contort himself to get the shot off. Smith’s textbook fast-break defense allowed LeBron to get to his launching point. Take a look:
And here’s the end result, in all it’s glory:
Now watch it all happen as it did in real time:
That’s why LeBron James is the Finals MVP.