LeBron James sat powerless in an unfamiliar spot — the bench — as the Golden State Warriors toyed with the Cleveland Cavaliers early in the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
Steph Curry, who already topped 30 points, dribbled through the Cavaliers defence like the brush of an artist painting broad strokes. The Warriors lead extended beyond 20, yet judging by their energy you’d think the soon-to-be champions were playing in a tied game.
Kevin Durant was making a case for his second consecutive Finals MVP, notching a triple-double two nights after scoring a career playoff-best 43 points.
James returned, but the Warriors’ lead only grew, at one point reaching as many as 28 points. He checked out of the game with four minutes to play to a standing ovation from a fan base preparing to possibly say goodbye to its homegrown hero for a second time.
Friday was Golden State’s night from the opening tip, a reminder we didn’t need that we’re living in the era of the Warriors dynasty.
Sweep = complete.
The @warriors are back-to-back NBA champions!
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 9, 2018
The first half was entertaining at least. After going down by double digits early, the Cavs mounted a brief comeback and trailed by nine at recess.
Golden State came out of halftime and owned the third quarter, as it often does, outscoring Cleveland 25-13 in the frame. By the end of the period, the Cavaliers had effectively given up, slow on defensive rotations and settling for bad jumpers as the Quicken Loans crowd fell silent.
Cleveland never stood a chance in the series, and Game 4 highlighted the talent gap between the two finalists.
Here are takeaways from the Warriors’ dominant, title-clinching 108-85 Game 4 victory:
After scoring just 11 points in Game 3, Curry returned on Friday night with a purpose. He attacked the basket early, and paced his team with 20 first-half points. He wound up with a team-high 37 points while nailing seven of his 15 three-point attempts.
Curry is a magician (via @NBA) pic.twitter.com/cCQBlkwFCF
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) June 9, 2018
Curry was also a perfect 6-of-6 from the free-throw line. He didn’t miss a free-throw during the entire Finals series.
To make matters worse for Cleveland, Durant overcame an 0-of-3 shooting night from beyond the arc to make an impact with 20 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, and three blocks. He was a team-high plus-30 in Game 4.
Durant cemented his status as James’ biggest rival and outplayed the Cavs star for the second game in a row.
James scored 16 of his 23 points in the first half, and took a series-low 13 shots in Game 4. He wasn’t even the Cavs’ leading shooter — that would be none other than Rodney Hood, who was 4-of-14 from the floor.
Golden State had already entrenched “dynasty” status before this season began but cemented its legacy with Friday’s win.
That’s now three titles in four years for the Warriors, and with Durant, a free agent, having said he plans to re-sign with the team this summer and Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green under contract next season, this team is only poised to add to that total.
The Warriors have dominated the era. Their regular-season record speaks for itself, including of course their record 73-win season in 2016, but the way they’ve rolled through these past four post-seasons is on par with some of the best dynasties of the modern era.
Between 2015-18 the Warriors have now made it to four straight Finals, and only lost an average of five games per playoff run in that span.
For context, that’s fewer losses than both the legendary Los Angeles Lakers (5.5 losses per playoffs between ’85-88, when they won three titles in four years) and Boston Celtics (7.25 losses per playoffs during their four straight Finals appearances between ’85-88). It’s also fewer than LeBron’s Miami Heat team (7 losses per playoffs during four straight Finals appearances in ’11-14).
Only Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls (4.3 losses during their six championship seasons between ’91-98) and the Shaq-Kobe Lakers (4.3 losses during their 2000-’02 three-peat) fared better.
KNOWING YOUR ROLE
The Warriors exhibit all the signs of a championship team including one area in which their opponents fell far short.
Golden State seems to successfully get contributions from whoever is on the floor. Whether it’s veterans like David West and Shaun Livingston, raw rookies like Jordan Bell, or enigmatic personalities like Nick Young and JaVale McGee, there are no real liabilities (something that couldn’t be said of Cleveland this season).
As former players on winning clubs will attest, the key to a great team is the ability to have players step on the floor and know exactly what is being asked of them, and how to fit their skill set into the greater system. The Warriors check that box in bold.
Young and McGee are great examples of the power of playing on a team like the Warriors. Both came to Golden State after having developed reputations as erratic and inconsistent talents, but re-shaped their images deep into their careers. Both were legitimate contributors to a Finals-winning team — especially McGee — and that’s not a sentence anybody expected to write this time just two years ago.
That’s officially a wrap on a wild 2017-18 NBA season that delivered everything you’d want — except a seven-game Finals. But today’s NBA never seems to slow down. The draft is less than two weeks away. Free agency, in which several franchise-type players could be on the move, headlined by James, is fast-approaching. The Toronto Raptors are still looking for a coach, and the trade market will be open all summer long.