LeBron James delivered one of his mightiest all-around performances and the Cleveland Cavaliers completed the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history Sunday, dethroning defending champion Golden State 93-89 to capture their first league title.
James scored 27 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and passed off 11 assists to win the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award for the third time in his career as the Cavaliers became the first club to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win the best-of-seven series title.
“We were able to put together some spectacular games down 3-1,” a tearful James said moments after the victory. “This is special.
“I kept that positive attitude. I don’t know why we had to take the hard road. Against all odds.”
Kyrie Irving added 26 points, including the crucial 3-pointer with 52 seconds remaining to give Cleveland the lead for good, as the Cavaliers took the series 4-3 and brought Cleveland its first major sports champion since the 1964 NFL Browns, ending the longest such title drought for any American city.
– ‘This is for you’ –
“Cleveland, this is for you,” James screamed on the court after the frantic final seconds.
“King” James had only the third statistical “triple double” in the seventh game of an NBA Finals, joining Jerry West in 1969 and James Worthy in 1988.
James, in his sixth consecutive finals and seventh overall, led the series with 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists plus more than two steals and two blocked shots a game — the greatest all-around numbers ever produced with a crown on the line.
Only two other clubs down 3-1 in the finals had ever forced a seventh game, none in 50 years until the Cavaliers epic comeback.
It was only the fourth time in 19 NBA Finals seventh games that the road team won, the first time since Washington captured the 1978 title in Seattle.
Golden State suffered the worst choke in NBA Finals history after having won an NBA record 73 regular-season games.
“It sucks,” said Draymond Green, who led the Warriors with 32 points. “It hurts to lose when you had a 3-1 lead.”
The winner-take-all showdown captured the attention of US President Barack Obama, who watched the end of the game on Air Force One after returning from a family trip, and commanded high-priced fans, courtside tickets with a face value of $8,500 being resold for as much as $49,500.
Fans saw a thriller after six lopsided prior outcomes in the historic series.
James made three free throws and added a 3-pointer to give the Cavaliers an 89-87 lead, but Klay Thompson’s layup lifted the Warriors level with 4:39 to play.
The teams each went six possessions without scoring after that, time and again thwarting their rivals until Irving’s 3-pointer.
After another Cavaliers’ stop, James was fouled by Green as he tried for a title-clinching slam dunk. Instead, he made a free throw to produce the final margin and the Warriors could not close the gap in the dying seconds.
The Warriors had not lost three games in a row since 2013.
NBA scoring leader Steph Curry had 17 points while fellow Warriors 3-point sharpshooter Thompson managed only 14.
The Warriors took their biggest lead at 54-46 but back-to-back 3-pointers by J.R. Smith and an Irving layup pulled the Cavaliers level early in the third quarter.
Curry scored the next five points but then went 0-for-4 with three turnovers over more than three minutes and Cleveland went on an 14-2 run, Irving scoring 10 in the spurt that gave the Cavaliers a 68-61 advantage.
– Momentum swings –
Back came Golden State, Green hitting three free throws and a 32-pointer in a 15-7 run to seize a 76-75 edge entering the fourth quarter after 17 lead changes and nine ties.
Green scored 22 first-half points, hitting 8-of-10 shots from the floor and 5-of-5 from 3-point range after an 0-for-10 showing from beyond the arc in his prior three games.
Green had four 3-pointers and a 3-point play in the second quarter and scored nine points in a 12-5 run that gave Golden State a 47-40 lead.
He also had six rebounds and five assists in sparking Golden State to a 49-42 half-time edge as Warriors top scorers Thompson and Curry combined to shoot 5-of-17 overall and 3-of-12 in 3-pointers.
James led the Cavaliers in the first half with 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists but also made four turnovers. –Agence France-Presse