CLEVELAND: Snapping a 40-year title drought, the Golden State Warriors downed Cleveland 105-97 on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) to capture the NBA finals and become one of the league’s most unconventional championship teams.
Andre Iguodala, the first player to earn NBA finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) honors without starting every game of the series, and Steph Curry, the 3-point sharpshooter who won NBA regular-season MVP honors, each scored 25 points as the Warriors took the best-of-seven title series four games to two.
“World champions,” Curry said. “This is something special. This is a special group. From the start of the season this is what we envisioned.”
Golden State became the first team since the 1991 Chicago Bulls to win a title with no players having prior NBA finals experience.
Steve Kerr, who won five titles as a player with Chicago and San Antonio, became the first rookie coach to capture the crown since Pat Riley with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1982.
“I almost forgot how grueling this stretch is, two straight months of emotional and physical stress, just the roller coaster ride you are on,” Kerr said of the playoff run. “There’s a lot of pent-up energy and relief more than anything in that locker room.”
Iguodala spent 758 career games as a starter before being consigned to a reserve role this season, only to have Kerr start him in the last three finals games to produce a quicker lineup that wore down the stubborn Cavaliers.
“This is awesome,” said Iguodala, who saved his season-high scoring night for the decider. “We’re going to remember this for a long time.”
Iguodala averaged 7.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in the regular season but 16.3 points and 5.8 rebounds, becoming the first NBA Finals MVP who didn’t start a single game for his team in the regular season.
James historic in defeat
As importantly, he played stellar defense against Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, who became the first player to lead an NBA finals in all three major statistical areas — averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists.
“Exhausting,” Iguodala said. “You have to put so much effort in trying to contain him because you can’t really stop him.”
But the best team proved more than the greatest player could handle and Iguodala joined Magic Johnson as a rookie with the 1980 Lakers as the only finals MVPs who played alongside a season MVP.
“What a team win for the Warriors and an epic season for Steph,” tweeted US President Barack Obama. “Kudos to LeBron and the Cavs for an unbelievable effort under adversity.”
Draymond Green added 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists for Golden State, which won a league-best 67 games this season and led the NBA in defense, scoring and shooting percentage.
“This has been a long ride,” Iguodala said. “It’s been a great season, and we’re just going to enjoy the moment.”
Curry became only the sixth player to win his first MVP and first title in the same season, the first since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000.
He joined Magic Johnson and Bob Cousy as the only point guards to win the regular-season NBA MVP award and league title in the same season.
It was a thrill he shared with his father Dell, a former NBA standout who never claimed the crown.
“He played 16 years and never got the chance to enjoy this,” Curry said. “He is living through me and my teammates. Unimaginable feeling.”
James scored 32 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and passed out nine assists to again lead the Cavaliers, but he could not bring Cleveland its first sports title since 1964.
James said injuries that sidelined star forward Kevin Love in the first round of the playoffs and star guard Kyrie Irving in the finals opener were too much to overcome.
“There’s a lot of talent sitting in suits,” James said. “We ran out of talent.”
“It just wasn’t our time.”
James fell to 2-4 in NBA Finals appearances but refused to call this his greatest finals disappointment, saying “They are all disappointing, doesn’t matter if I’m playing in Miami or Cleveland or Mars.”
Cavs fight back late
Trailing 47-45, the Warriors unleashed a 24-8 run in the third quarter, Iguodala scoring seven points while Festus Ezeli netted the last six points, the Nigerian’s 3-point play giving Golden State a 69-55 advantage.
James pulled the Cavs within seven but Curry and Iguodala each had two 3-pointers in a 17-9 run for a 92-77 edge with 6:01 to play. Cleveland’s J.R. Smith hit three 3-pointers and James a late layup as the Cavs pulled within 101-97 but Curry and Iguodala sank late free throws to seal the victory.