The visitors’ locker room in Oracle Arena was overpowered by the smell of champagne. Puddles of the bubbly covered the floor. It was almost impossible to take a step without hitting an empty champagne bottle or a beer can that had been flattened in celebratory glee.
The scene was surreal considering that a week ago it seemed nearly impossible that the Cleveland Cavaliers would celebrate the 2016 NBA championship, which they did by defeating the Golden State Warriors 93-89 in Game 7 on Sunday night.
No team had overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals. The Cavaliers were trying to do that against a team that had won a record 73 games in the regular season. Only two of the 32 previous teams to fall behind 3-1 had even forced a Game 7.
But those previous 32 teams didn’t have LeBron James playing at a level unmatched by anyone on the court, including the two-time reigning MVP, Stephen Curry.
James was named the Finals MVP for the third time. He shed tears of joy on the court after pulling the Cavs to three straight wins for the title, beginning with a win last Monday at Oracle.
“I’m their leader, and they allow me to lead (them) every single night,” James said. “I was just true to that. I believed, and nobody else believed besides the other 14 guys and our coaching staff and our fans. So it’s just going out and executing and putting things together and making plays, and we were able to do that.”
Kyrie Irving finished off the Warriors with a three-pointer in Curry’s face with 53 seconds to play to give Cleveland the lead, 92-89.
Curry missed two three-point attempts in the final 30.7 seconds, and James added a free throw leading what James said would be the biggest party in Cleveland history as the Cavs won the franchise’s first title.
Eleven teams have now overcome a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series in NBA history, and it happened twice in these playoffs.
The Warriors pulled off the feat in the Western Conference finals against Oklahoma City. But considering the Warriors were coming off the best regular season ever, few outside of Cleveland gave the Cavs a chance of winning the title.
“We ignored all the naysayers and what everyone else said outside of (our locker room),” Irving said. “We focused on what game plan we needed to run and what was best for our team. We ignored everything else that all the basketball experts were saying. We just took care of our locker room and each other. We showed it out there (Sunday).
By the end of the night, the Warriors couldn’t deny the greatness Cleveland showed to win the title, particularly the two wins at Oracle.
“Their leaders led,” said Warriors forward Draymond Green. “LeBron put the team on his back, Kyrie put the team on his back, and everybody followed suit.”
Cleveland held the high-powered Warriors to 40 points after halftime and 13 in the fourth quarter. They used their size advantage to outscore Golden State 48-28 in the paint and outrebound the Warriors 48-32.
Cleveland had a 17-6 advantage in second-chance points and outscored the Warriors 18-7 in fast-break points.
James had 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. Irving had 26 points.
Draymond Green led the Warriors with 32 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists. But the other two Warriors All-Stars did not produce at that level.
Curry scored 17 points but shot 6 of 19. He also committed a team-high four turnovers, thanks partly to some risky passes in traffic. Klay Thompson had 14 points on 6-of-17 shooting with three turnovers.
“We had our chances,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “And our guys know that, and they’re really bummed out. But as I said, that’s the way it goes.”