CLEVELAND — Golden State. Golden still.
Stephen Curry scored 37 points, NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant added 20 and a triple-double and the Warriors stamped themselves a dynasty after winning their second straight title and third in four years Friday night, 108-85 over the Cavaliers to complete a sweep and perhaps drive LeBron James from his home again to chase championships.
Overcoming obstacles all season long, the Warriors were not going to be denied and won the fourth straight finals matchup against Cleveland with ease.
“This is so hard to do and doing it three out of four years is incredible,” guard Klay Thompson said.
It was the first sweep in the NBA Finals since 2007, when James was dismissed by a powerful Spurs team in his first one. His eighth straight appearance didn’t go well either, and now there’s uncertainty where the superstar will play next.
James, who said he broke his right hand in frustration after Game 1, finished with 23 points and spent the final minutes on the bench, contemplating what went wrong and maybe his next move.
After the game, he sat quietly in his corner locker with a towel draped over his head. He arrived at his postgame news conference with a large brace on his right hand from a “self-inflicted” injury.
Act IV between the Warriors and Cavs featured a drama-filled and controversial Game 1. But from there on, Durant, Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green and the rest of this California crew showed why they’re the game’s gold standard.
And they may stay that way.
“Can’t get enough of this feeling so we’re going to celebrate it together,” Curry said.
Not wanting to give the Cavs or their fans any hope despite the fact that no team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit in the NBA playoffs, the Warriors built a nine-point halftime lead when Curry ignored a closeout by James and dropped a 3-pointer.
Then the league’s best team tightened the screws on Cleveland in the third quarter, outscoring the Cavs 25-13 and prompting Golden State fans to begin those drawn-out “War-eee-orrss” chants that provide a perfect musical accompaniment to their 3-point barrages.
By the start of the fourth quarter, the only question was whether Curry would win his first NBA Finals MVP or if it would go to Durant for the second year in a row.
And again, it was Durant, who added 12 rebounds and 10 assists — more satisfaction and validation for a player who couldn’t beat the Warriors so he joined them.
After surviving a rougher-than-usual regular season and beating top-seeded Houston in Game 7 on the road in the Western Conference finals, the Warriors withstood a 51-point masterpiece by James in Game 1 and joined an elite group of teams to win multiple championships in a four-year span.
Only Bill Russell’s Celtics, the “Showtime” Lakers and the Los Angeles squad led by Kobe and Shaq, and Michael Jordan’s Bulls have been as dominant in such a short period of time.
Golden State’s path to this title was more precarious than the first two for coach Steve Kerr and the Warriors, who overcame injuries, expectations, a built-to-dethrone-them Rockets team and the brilliance of James, who scored 51 points in the series opener and carried a Cavs team from the beginning of their rollercoaster season until the end.
It may have been the final game in Cleveland for the 33-year-old, who is expected to opt out of his $35.6 million contract for 2019 next month and become a free agent.
James was pulled from the game with 4:03 left, and he slapped hands with the Warriors before heading to the bench. He averaged 34 points, 8.5 rebounds and 10 assists in the series, but as has been the case in the past, he didn’t have enough help.
Another Summer of LeBron is officially underway and there are already teams stretching from Philadelphia to Los Angeles hoping to land the three-time champion, who may have to go elsewhere to put together a cast strong enough — and as James made clear this week, smart enough — to bring down the Warriors.
Right now, Golden State is on another tier and with Durant expected to re-sign with them in weeks and Curry, Thompson, Green and the rest still young and hungry, their reign could last much longer.
Heading into the playoffs, the Warriors appeared vulnerable. There were lingering questions about Curry’s sprained left knee that sidelined him for almost six weeks and kept him out of a first-round series against San Antonio.
Kerr was forced to mix and match lineups, and it became obvious the Warriors weren’t going to go 16-1 and storm their way to a title like they did in 2017, when their only postseason loss came in Game 4 after the Cavs made 24 three-pointers.
The Warriors began defense of their title as a No. 2 seed and their season was in serious jeopardy when they fell behind 3-2 to presumptive MVP James Harden and the Rockets. But Golden State, catching a break when Houston star guard Chris Paul was forced to sit with a hamstring injury, showed a champion’s poise by winning two straight.
That set up another reunion with James and the Cavs.
Maybe the last.