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Henry Liao

NBA Finals: Warriors in 5

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A historic playoff perfection was not theirs to claim but the Golden State Warriors were rewarded with the ring that matters most to their gallant troops and the hardware that 29 other member teams in the National Basketball Association had coveted all season long ? the Larry O?Brien trophy that goes to the league champions.

Deservedly so, the Warriors claimed their second NBA title in three years with a 4-1 decision over the Cleveland Cavaliers ? their 2016 Finals tormentors ? in the best-of-seven titular showdown that came to a close yesterday with a 129-120 victory in Game 5 before their home folks at the Oracle Arena.

Cleveland, which pinned Golden State with its first defeat in 16 games in the just-concluded playoffs with a 137-116 rout in Game 4 at the Quicken Loans Arena, came out strong off the gates to lead by as many eight points (20-12) in the first quarter that ended in its favor, 37-33.
The Cavs were still ahead by four, 43-39, when the Warriors pulled off a torrid run in the second quarter that gave them a lead of as much as 16 points (69-53) before settling for a 71-60 advantage at intermission.

Cleveland, which a year ago became the first team in NBA Finals history to rally from a 3-1 series deficit and steal the NBA diadem from Golden State on its home floor with a Game 7 win, was still within striking distance as it trailed by just five, 98-93, after three points. Then came the customary offensive avalanche that the Dubs have made against the opposition throughout the regular season (67-15) and playoffs (16-1), pulled away from the Cavs halfway through the payoff canto behind Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and the X-Man Andre Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP when the Bay Area squad corralled its first NBA title following a 40-year famine.

Durant, who last summer left the Oklahoma City Thunder following nine ring-less seasons to join Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green at Golden State, received a unanimous vote from an 11-member media panel as this year?s Finals MVP, validating his controversial decision to move West with the Warriors.

The 6-9, 28-year-old Durant went 5-of-8 from beyond the arc and shot 14-of-20 (.700) overall from the field ? the best percentage ever in a title-clinching victory in Finals history (with a minimum of 20 attempts) ? grabbed seven rebounds and dished out five assists in 40:15 minutes.
In the five-game series, the Washington D.C. native, whose love for his mom is eternal (?she?s the real MVP? for singlehandedly raising his son), posted averages of 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists with shooting clips of .556 (60-of-10 from the field, including .474 (18-of-3 from rainbow territory, and .927 (38-of-41) from the charity stripes.

Durant?s 35.2-point average is the highest in NBA Finals history for a player who shot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the three-point area and 90 percent from the free-throw line ? far better that Orlando?s Anfernee (Penny) Hardaway?s 25.5 ppg in a 1995 loss to Houston by a 4-0 sweep and Detroit?s Chauncey Billups? 21.0 ppg in 2004 in a 4-1 Pistons win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

KD also is the first player since the Lakers? Shaquille O?Neal in 2000 to register five straight 30-point games in a Finals series. (O?Neal?s team beat Indiana, 4-2, in that year?s Finals.)

In the series-clincher, Curry collected 34 markers (10-20 FGA), six boards, 10 assists and three steals to finish with averages of 26.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 9.7 apg while his Splash Brothers mate Thompson struggled with 11 points on 4-of-13 floor shooting and wound up with a series norm of 16.4 ppg. Green, who had been off offensively throughout the Finals (19-of-55, .345), shot a frigid 3-10 from the field for 10 scores but he made up for this deficiency with a team-high 12 boards and five assists.

But what turned out to be a pleasant surprise for the Warriors was the performance of Iguodala on both ends of the floor, netting 20 points (9-14 FGA), three rebounds and three assists off the pines while making life a bit harder for LeBron James on defense.

Be that as it may, James still managed to chalk up 41 points (around 10 of them in the final minutes when the game was already practically decided) on 19-of-30 FG shooting, 13 rebounds and eight handoffs in 46:13 of playing time for the dethroned Cavs.

Kyrie Irving shot 9-of-22 to get his 26 points in Game 4 and normed 29.4 ppg overall in the Finals for the wine and Gold. His backcourt partner J.R. Smith, drilled in a series-high 25 markers on 9-of-11 floor clip, including 7-of-8 from trifecta. Smith averaged 18.7 ppg in his final three appearances by going 19-of-31 from the field, including 17-of-27 (.630) from three-ball country, after tallying just a triple in the series opener and being held scoreless in Game 2.

Kevin Love, who had a poor shooting effort for the second time in three games and could be a trade bait in the off-season, put up a 10 off the boards but was limited to six points on 2-of-8 attempts. He, however, wound up with series averages of 16.0 ppg and 11.2 rpg. Tristan Thompson, the Cavs? center, got 15 points (10 of them in the first quarter) on 6-of-8 shooting and plucked down eight reebies but looked invinsible during the series? first three games when Cleveland went down 0-3.

If it were any consolation, James averaged a triple-double in the Finals ? a first in NBA history ? 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10 assists ? with a .562 (66-of-117) field-goal percentage.

This early, Golden State, which completed the postseason with the best winning percentage in NBA playoff annals at 16-1 (the LA Lakers were 15-1 in the 2001 playoffs when the first-round series was still a best-of-five), is already the choice of the oddsmakers in Las Vegas to repeat as NBA champions in 2018 ? perhaps against ?second choice? Cleveland again in the Finals.
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