OAKLAND, Calif. — LeBron James didn’t only bring his talents back to Cleveland, he brought the city its first professional sports championship in more than 50 years.
The Cavaliers stunned the Warriors, all of the NBA and made history by rallying from a 3-1 deficit to knock off last year’s champions and win the title. They capped that miraculous comeback with a 93-89 win in a thrilling Game 7 on Sunday night at Oracle Arena. Cleveland won the series 4-3.
Thirty-three teams in NBA Finals history had been down 3-1 and the previous 32 lost the series. But James was on a mission and wouldn’t be denied against the best regular-season team ever. He captured his third NBA championship, and it was the sweetest, all things considered.
“I came back for a reason,” James said. “I came back to bring a championship to our city. I knew I was capable of doing it. I knew I had the right ingredients and the right blueprint to help this franchise get to a place we’ve never been.”
Playing against reigning two-time league MVP Stephen Curry, James proved he’s still the best player on the planet. He had a triple-double in the clinching game: 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists and three blocks, including swatting an Andre Iguodala layup with 1:50 left. James also iced the game with a free throw with an injured right wrist to put the Cavaliers up four with 10.6 seconds left.
James was an easy choice for Finals MVP after averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists in the series. James scored 41 points in both Games 5 and 6 to help extend the series.
But James didn’t do it alone in Game 7. With the score tied at 89 in the final minute, Kyrie Irving hit the biggest shot in Cavaliers history. Irving drilled a three-pointer with 53 seconds left to put Cleveland up for good. He finished with 26.
Draymond Green carried the Warriors, with 32 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists. But Curry and Klay Thompson had disappointing finishes. Curry was 6-for-19 with 17 points, and was just 1-for-6 with three points in the fourth. Thompson shot 6-for-17 and had 14.
“It hurts,” Curry said.
The Warriors went from being the NBA’s biggest winners to the biggest chokers, as their brilliant season was marred by this collapse.
They won 73 regular-season games and erased a 3-1 hole against Oklahoma City in the conference finals. Up 3-1 in the Finals and with two games on their home court, the Warriors couldn’t close out the Cavaliers.
Golden State’s nine playoff losses matched its regular-season total, and it dropped three straight for the first time in the two years Steve Kerr has been the coach.
Curry wasn’t himself in the series. He averaged 22.6 points, and shot 40 percent from the field and from three-point range.
“I didn’t do enough to help my team win,” Curry said. “Down the stretch, I was settling. It’ll haunt me for a while. It means a lot to me to try and help lead my team and do what I need to do on the big stages.
“We didn’t get it done and I didn’t play my best the majority of the series. It’s not a good feeling.”
After leading the Heat to four Finals, and two titles, James returned to Cleveland two seasons ago. The kid from nearby Akron wanted to deliver a championship for Cleveland.
The Cavaliers lost in the Finals last year to the Warriors. But Sunday night, James’ dreams and those of the long-suffering Cleveland fans came true. He delivered Cleveland its first championship since the Browns won the NFL crown in 1964.
“To be able to end this drought, our fans deserve it,” James said. “It was for them.”
The first six games were decided by double-figures, but this one was a back-and-forth, drama-filled battle of wills.
In the third quarter alone, the Cavaliers erased an eight-point deficit and the Warriors wiped out a seven-point hole. Golden State led 76-75 at the start of the fourth.
The Warriors went up 87-83 on a Green putback with 5:37 left. The Cavaliers regained the lead 89-87 after James made three free throws and a three-pointer on consecutive trips. Thompson tied it with a layup with 4:53 remaining.
It stayed that way until Irving’s three-pointer. Curry misfired on another three with 30.7 seconds left that Cleveland rebounded. Irving fed James, who was cutting to the basket, and he went up for a dunk. Green fouled him hard. James was writhing on the floor in pain, appearing to injure his right wrist.
But he had the championship in his hands at the foul line. He missed the first, and made the second, clinching Cleveland’s first pro sports title in 52 years. he couldn’t wait to get back to Cleveland on Monday.
“I’m coming home,” James said. “I’m coming home with what I said I was going to do.”