OAKLAND - Confetti didn’t fall from the ceiling Sunday evening at Oracle Arena. Warriors fans adorned in yellow Strength in Numbers t-shirts, stood silent. Stunned. The improbable had just happened. The mighty Splash Brothers had fallen.
The moment was surreal. LeBron James, Kings James, weaped openly. He embraced Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers and celebrated on a pop up stage resting in the middle of the Warriors home floor.
James and his teammates took turns kissing the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. More tears. After 52 years of futility, James had fulfilled his promise and delivered an NBA championship to the Cavaliers fans.
“I came back for a reason,” James said in his postgame press conference. “I came back to bring a championship to our city. I knew what I was capable of doing.”
The celebration spilled into the visitors' locker room. It was bedlam. Complete sensory overload. The smell of sweat, champagne and cigars filled your nose the moment you walked into the Cavaliers' locker room. Puddles of alcoholic beverages pooled on plastic tarps coated the visiting locker room floor.
The murmur of media questions being hurled in one scrum after another was drowned out by the occasional yelp of a celebrating player. Jamie Foxx and Usher were there. So was owner Dan Gilbert, who was carrying the biggest bottle of pink Moët you’ve ever seen.
No one saw this coming. Down 3-1 to a Golden State Warriors team that was not only the reigning champs, but who had also won a record 73 wins in the regular season, the Cavs looked out of their league. And then adjustments were made.
“Coming back from that deficit is extremely tough,” J.R. Smith said following the Game 7. “We just looked at it as we want to take it a quarter at a time and a game at a time, and one by one, we just chipped it off.”
The Cavs dominated in Game 5, stealing momentum away from the Warriors on their home floor. Game 6 in Cleveland was more of the same. Golden State’s propensity to switch on defense went from an advantage to an Achilles heel.
By Game 7, no one knew what to expect. Would the Warriors team that had looked like world beaters for the better part of two years show up, or would James and Irving once again be too much?
After lopsided game after lopsided game, Game 7 felt different from the tip. James was a man on a mission, and Irving was an epic wingman.
But Draymond Green was the best player on the floor and the Warriors came out firing from long range. In the end, it came down to the final few possessions and the Cavs were the team that made the plays.
It wasn’t a flawless performance for the four-time MVP, but James managed to finish the night with 27 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds. With the performance, he joined Lakers Hall of Famer James Worthy as only the second player to post a triple-double in Game 7 of an NBA Finals.
“I watched Beethoven tonight right now of LeBron James compose a game,” Irving said. “He had a freakin’ triple-double in Game 7 of an NBA Finals games.”
Very few stars have faced the constant scrutiny that James has faced throughout his career. His “decision” to walk away from his hometown Cavs in 2010 and “take his talents to South Beach” was an almost unforgivable act. Especially to the people of Cleveland.
But the superstar proved that you can go home again. After four seasons with the Heat, including two championship rings, James returned to the Cavs two seasons ago with one objective - win one for Cleveland.
“There will still be naysayers,” Irving said of James. “But I know it doesn’t matter to him. It doesn’t matter to me. All that matters is we’re champions and our whole team is etched in history.”
Following the improbable 93-89 Game 7 win, James hoisted the Bill Russell Most Valuable Player trophy with tears streaming down his cheeks. It was his third such award, but it could have easily been shared.
In the biggest moment of the game, it wasn’t the four-time league MVP who drilled the game’s biggest shot, it was Irving who came up with the goods.
With the game deadlocked at 89-89 and just 52 clicks remaining on the clock, coach Tyronn Lue called for an isolation play. He wanted to pitt his budding star against league MVP Stephen Curry.
A coach with just a half a year of head coaching experience handed the NBA championship to Irving, not James, and turned him loose.
The result was stunning. Curry stayed in front of Irving, but the Warriors star had to respect his ability to drive. Irving used that space to rise up and knock down a 25-footer that proved to be the game winner.
“You know, that shot he made tonight, that 3-point shot was probably one of the biggest shots in NBA history,” coach Tyronn Lue said.
James would later hit one of two from the line to push the lead to four and the Warriors couldn’t find a way to hit a shot down in the waning moments. This is the one that got away from Golden State and that will sting for a long time.
It was a night that will be remembered forever in Cleveland. It’s fresh off a Hollywood script. Prodigal son returns to deliver the championship that he promised.
“What’s going through my mind is I’m ready to get back to Cleveland,” James said. “I can’t wait to get off that plane and hold that trophy up and see all our fans at the terminal.”