Lebron Fulfills His Promise: The 2016 NBA Finals
With the National Basketball League (NBA) indefinitely suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, basketball fans will be able to reflect on some of the best playoff performances in NBA history.
With the National Basketball League (NBA) indefinitely suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, basketball fans will be able to reflect on some of the best playoff performances in NBA history. While there have been many great NBA Finals in the history of the NBA, the championship duel between the Cleveland Cavaliers (Cavs) and Golden State Warriors in 2016 certainly contends for the top spot.
The Return and Revenge Story
In 2014, Lebron James returned to his home state of Ohio and signed a deal with the Cavs. The Cavs drafted him in 2003 and James played seven seasons there, coming close, but never winning a championship. In 2011, James made a controversial move to join two other superstars on the Miami Heat. The move left fans around the world shocked and angry, as they felt he had chosen the easy path to a championship.
While James would go on to win two championships with the Heat, he felt as though he had some unfinished business back in Cleveland. The return was emotional for both the city and James, who promised Cleveland he would help it win its first championship. In his first season back, James would help lead the Cavs to the 2015 finals with the support of star guard Kyrie Irving and star forward Kevin Love, but the Golden State Warriors won the series in 6 games. Yet to fulfill his promise, the upcoming 2015-2016 year would be his 'revenge season,' making the Finals victory a tad sweeter.
Legendary Seasons and Player Matchups
The Cavs finished the 2015-16 season as the first seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Warriors, on the other hand, finished with 73 wins in the regular season, a record feat that made them favorites for the 2016 Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy. The playoffs progressed, and the two teams found themselves in the same position as the previous year, a Finals matchup with a widely projected Warriors win. The Warriors were one of the most dominant teams of the decade, revolutionizing three-point shooting with the marksmen duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, commonly known as the "Splash Brothers," while lockdown defenders Draymond Green and Andrew Iguodala embodied the team's positionless playing philosophy.
On the Cavs, James led the way with an unmatched combination of finesse and physicality, backed by Irving, arguably one of the best one-on-one scorers in the NBA at that time, and lastly, a sharpshooting power forward in Love who could stretch the floor and grab key rebounds. While the Warriors' offense focused around its three-point shooting and ball movement, Cleveland used size to its advantage and looked to get points closer to the basket. Every possession, fans would witness Iguodala or Green guarding Lebron, or see Kyrie Irving chase one of the "Splash Brothers" around the court. These star-studded lineups, each with differing play styles, were key to this legendary Finals series.
A Comeback for the ages
The Warriors won the first two games of the series, including a blowout in Game 2 by 33 points. It seemed as though the Warriors would sweep the Cavs, leaving James unable to fulfill his promise of winning a championship for Cleveland once again. A Cavs victory in Game 3 brought a sliver of hope to the team's fans, but the Warriors quickly dashed it, winning the following game, leaving the Cavs down 3-1. A comeback from this deficit had never been accomplished before, so the Warriors seemed a lock for becoming back-to-back champions.
However, in Game 5, Lebron James put the team on his back to spark a comeback run with 41 points and 16 rebounds, and then followed that up with another 41 points in Game 6 to tie the series at 3-3.
While the Cavs had proved themselves to be a formidable force, a Game 7 in the Warriors' home stadium, Oracle Arena, where the Warriors had only lost 2 games all season long, put one final obstacle in the team's path to victory. With four minutes left in the fourth quarter, the score was tied at 89-89. The Warriors found themselves in a fast break two-on-one situation and Iguodala seemed set to score an uncontested layup. However, James sprinted the full length of the court to block the ball off the backboard, an amazing defensive recovery to keep the game tied. With less than a minute remaining, Irving went to work on an isolation play against Steph Curry, pulling off a sequence of dribbles before taking a contested stepback three, hitting nothing but net. The Cavs would hold on to win the game, leaving Cleveland with its first ever championship, fulfilling Lebron's promise.
The win would be one of the most emotional moments in NBA history. Two years after James had returned to the Cavs, citing his "unfinished business," he would lead the team with historic performances to an unprecedented comeback from a 3-1 deficit and would be appropriately awarded the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award. The journey to the 2016 Finals and the Cavs' victory was truly bigger than basketball, as James put up legendary performances in the face of enormous pressure, overcoming a seemingly insurmountable Warriors team to keep his promise to his city.