The Golden State Warriors vanquished the ghost of the 3–1 lead Monday night, clinching their second championship in three years on the back of Kevin Durant, who scored 39 points in a 129–120 win over the Cavaliers. Durant vindicated his much-maligned decision to join the Warriors last summer, taking control of the team in the Finals and unquestionably leading Golden State in a resounding 4–1 series win over Cleveland.
Durant’s importance to Golden State waxed and waned throughout the playoffs, but he was essential in the Finals, and especially so in Game 5. Durant’s individual brilliance made up for Stephen Curry’s careless turnovers and Klay Thompson’s shooting struggles. Every time the Cavs drew close, Durant would take over individually, exploiting any defender thrown his way, hitting big shot after big shot. Durant may have joined one of the greatest teams of all time last summer, but now it’s hard to imagine Golden State winning this series without KD on the floor.
Cleveland did not have enough to stick with the Dubs. Kyrie Irving and LeBron James continued their string of incredible performances in elimination games. Irving was ridiculous on offense, dropping in 26 points, mostly on fearless forays into the paint. James was sublime all postseason long, and he contributed another 41 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists on Monday. But Irving and James were clearly weighed down by the series-long burden they carried by the end of Game 5, losing lift in their legs as the Warriors continued their relentless attack.
Many deserve praise for how they competed Monday night. Tristan Thompson had his best game of the series. Zaza Pachulia was successfully annoying in the first half. J.R. Smith connected on some huge threes. But the night, the series and the upcoming summer all belong to Durant.
KD iced the Cavs himself in Game 5. He scored over 30 points in every game of the Finals. He answered every question asked of him headed into the series. Durant simply didn’t ride the coattails of a 73-win team to a championship. He made that team his own, and in the most important moments of the year, it was Durant—not Curry, Thompson or Draymond Green—who took over.
As for James, he entered this series with a chance to take his legacy into the next stratosphere if he could have pulled off another massive upset. Instead, he will have to settle for the greatest postseason campaign of his career ending at the hands of arguably the best team in NBA history.
Now the question becomes: How many more for Golden State? The Warriors are primed for success unlike any team since the '90s Bulls. Curry and Durant are in the thick of their primes, and both should be with the team for years to come. Thompson and Green are potential Hall-of-Famers on friendly contracts. Who will slow this team down? It’s a question that will haunt NBA teams all summer long, and likely every summer for the foreseeable future.