Whilst not a foregone conclusion that the Warriors would walk to the NBA Championship, it was a feat many expected them to accomplish. Certainly when you consider the feats achieved at the Oracle Arena, an unparalleled 54 game winning streak, the Championship seemed theirs to lose.
Stephen Curry has spearheaded this remarkable season in which the Warriors finished 73-9 in the regular season, his efforts as part of the team and as an individual rewarded with a unanimous 131 first place MVP votes.
So when the Warriors went 3-1 up in the series after a 108-97 beating of the Cleveland Cavaliers, with Curry scoring 38 points, it seemed the series was all but over.
Step forward LeBron James. Possibly the primary contemporary figurehead of the NBA, a label he has carried for nearly half a decade, and a winner of 2 NBA Championships and 4 MVP’s, he can match Curry step for step in respective achievements. Given that his exploits this season have very much fallen under the radar in the wake of Curry’s brilliance, few expected him to step up to the plate in quite the manner he fashioned.
In a typical show of LeBron’s brilliance, he has shouldered the responsibility of hauling the Cavaliers back into contention, taking full advantage of Draymond Green’s suspension for Game 5, and Curry’s 4th quarter ejection in Game 6 with two back-to back 41 point hauls. Kyrie Irving has undoubtedly aided the Cavaliers recovery with 41 points in Game 5, but LeBron’s 18 assists and 24 rebounds in those two games completely justifies his Finals MVP award. At 31 years old, he still has ‘it’; that ability to light up a game, and transcend his performance to a whole new level, evident in those two performances.
Did the pressure get to Curry?
Yes he top scored for the Warriors in 3 of the 7 games, but on two occasions failed to clear 20 points as he had done with such ease over the regular season. Completely outclassed by LeBron in games 5 & 6, and a shadow by 7, his petulant show of frustration was the throwing of his mouthguard into the crowd just as he fouled out with 4mins 22 remaining in the 4th quarter of game 6. But that was merely the finale in a series of on court indiscretions by the 28 year old that indicates more than ever the pressure got to him. He was forced into ducking out of challenges and allowing lay ups to happen just to ensure he remained on court. His indiscipline carried on into game 7, where he was nowhere near the effervescent three point king he had shaped himself to be throughout the regular season.
Understandably, he was the target for Cleveland’s defence. Allowed very little room in the three point line, and his shots from downtown a little more misplaced than usual, Curry cut a sorry figure at times. He had fight, no doubt, but while his performances were a little hampered, his determination was no comparison to that of James, who from the outset, seemed determined to upstage the back to back MVP winner on the biggest stage of the season.
The Cavaliers take home the trophy, and many will say they deserved it completely. But for the Warriors, they have to now pick themselves up and focus on next season, draped in the ignominy of a disastrous implosion at the finale of a record breaking campaign they surely thought they had won.