Kevin Durant scores a team-high 39 points to help Golden State defeat the Cavaliers 129-120 in Game 5. They may have blown a 3-1 lead last year, but the Warriors followed up their Game 4 loss with a huge victory and have now won their second title in three years.
Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Andre Iguodala have now won two championships, but this year they had Durant at their side to help bring the Larry O'Brien trophy back to the Bay Area. Not only does Durant finally get his first ring, his epic Finals performance also Curry was phenomenal for the entire series and finished off the clinching Game 5 with 34 points.
LeBron James has stood in the way of Golden State each of the last three seasons. He stole a title last season, but this year he was only able to prevent the sweep in Game 4. He was incredible throughout the entirety of the series, but his game-high 41 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists wasn't enough to send the series back to Cleveland for Game 6.
With this victory, Golden State redeems its collapse from last season in a major way and manages to once again find a way to knock off LeBron.
Here are some takeaways from Game 5:
Durant finally gets a ring
Durant has been chasing a title ever since his loss in the 2012 NBA Finals to … LeBron James. In a circle of life kind of way, James won his first title against Durant, and now KD wins his first against James. He's long spoke of not wanting to be behind anyone else anymore and that likely helped fuel his decision to join Golden State.
There were always going to be critics against his decision to join the Warriors last summer. He was leaving an already good team to go join an even greater one that had just won 73 games the year before. It felt unfair, but that was his decision to make and he decided that winning a championship was his true goal.
Love it or hate it, Durant has finally won a ring and now his name enters an elite class of NBA player. Nobody can take that away from him no matter how he won it.
'Redemption' for Steph Curry
Curry took the full force of the blame for last year's 3-1 NBA Finals collapse. Despite battling injuries, Curry wasn't the impact player Golden State needed to close out the series, and eventually they lost to James and the Cavs, who won their first NBA title for Cleveland. The narrative surrounding Curry this year was that he needed to "redeem" himself. Never mind the two MVPs and title in 2015. Curry had to prove he was in the elite class of player everybody put him in.
Belong he did. Curry was incredible for the entirety of the Finals, averaging 25 points, nine assists and eight rebounds while forcing the Cavs to alter their defense to try and limit his destruction. He might have not reached the scoring average of Durant, but the threat of Curry constantly forced Cleveland's defense to adjust to him and open lanes for his teammates.
With this title, Curry earns redemption from the narrative that had been created around him. He showed up in the playoffs in a big way and helped propel his team to their second title in three years over one of the greatest to ever play the game. He's earned his status as one of the NBA's elite.
LeBron James loses in the Finals again
LeBron has three rings and is breaking a new NBA record every game he plays. This year, he passed Michael Jordan in playoff scoring, Magic Johnson in playoff triple-doubles and became the first player to ever average a triple-double in the playoffs. His pedigree speaks for itself. He's, simply put, an incredible player.
However, what many will choose to point out when it comes to James is that he's now 3-5 in the NBA Finals. For some that's a criticism, but it's hard to not be amazed that he can be in the Finals enough times to even reach that kind of record, let alone play in seven straight. The last time James didn't play in the Finals was in 2010. Just reaching the Finals as many times as he has should be considered an accomplishment not a criticism.
Still, his record does have an impact on his legacy as a whole. A player as accomplished as LeBron James is going to be compared to all-time greats like Michael Jordan, which means his Finals record is going to be taken into account. Is that fair? Not always, but it's a fun debate to have in the right setting.
A dynasty in the making?
The Warriors winning the title doesn't feel like a shock and some would even argue it's not great for the NBA. The majority of their core won 73 games last year and a title the season before that. Then they went out and added Kevin Durant. They still have to find a way to keep this core together in the upcoming offseason, but if they can then this could be the start of a true dynasty.
Curry, Green, Thompson and Durant are all just now entering the true primes of their careers. If they all sign on to four- and five-year contracts then this is a group that theoretically could dominate the league as a whole for the next few years. They're that good and this combination of players has the chance to do something truly great.
With two championships in three years the only question worth asking now is how much further can they go. Will LeBron be able to stop the Warriors next year or is this team destined to dominate the league in a way not seen since Bill Russell's Celtics? It sounds like hyperbole, but early returns say they can be that dominant.