OAKLAND, Calif. — After becoming the first team to blow a 3-1 NBA Finals lead a year ago, the Warriors offered free agent Kevin Durant a two-year deal worth $54.27 million to be the difference-maker and possibly the final piece to build a dynasty. What a bargain.
Durant was every bit of that in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday night at Oracle Arena, scoring 11 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter of a 129-120 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers that clinched the Warriors’ second title in three seasons. It was the fifth straight 30-point performance for Durant in as many Finals games and earned him the MVP award.
He averaged 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists in the Finals to drive the Warriors’ record 16-1 postseason run that surpassed the 15-1 record of the 2000-01 Lakers.
“Call us a super-team, but it’s been a lot of super-teams that hasn’t worked,” Durant said. “We came together, we continued to just believe in each other and we sacrificed, and we’re champions now.”
There was a measure of redemption for the rest of the Warriors, who lost to the Cavaliers a year ago when Draymond Green was suspended for Game 5 and they became the first team to blow a 3-1 Finals lead.
“We had a letdown last year; I had a letdown last year,” Green said after the game. “But if Kevin Durant was the consolation prize to lose, thanks for the loss.”
Speaking of preseason speculation that Durant’s presence might disrupt the Warriors’ chemistry, coach Steve Kerr said, “There was never any question in my mind this was going to work. This is the culmination of a year where they grew together . . . and got better and better. It was phenomenal to be part of.”
Durant shot 14-for-20 and added seven rebounds and five assists, and Stephen Curry totaled 34 points and 10 assists for the Warriors. They also got 20 points off the bench from Andre Iguodala, 11 from Klay Thompson and 10 points and 12 rebounds from Green.
James was valiant in defeat for the Cavs with 41 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists, and he averaged a triple-double for the series with 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists. Kyrie Irving scored 26, J.R. Smith 25 and Tristan Thompson 15, but Kevin Love was held to six points to go with 10 rebounds.
After the game, it seemed James was in a mood to take stock of his 14-year career. Based on what he saw from the Warriors, his championship horizon might be nearing its end.
“We were able to get it last year, and they added one of the best players this league has ever seen,” James said of Durant. “Their front office did a great job, and obviously, it paid dividends . . . In my eyes, they’re built to last a few years.”
The Warriors came out with energy early but then suffered a relapse to their careless ballhandling ways of Game 4. They committed four turnovers in five possessions that helped fuel a 16-3 Cleveland run, including 10 points by James, as the Cavaliers took a 20-12 lead. The Warriors made only two of their first 11 three-pointers and another 9-0 Cavs surge pushed their lead to 41-33 early in the second period.
But that’s where the Warriors’ high-powered offense finally clicked into gear. They shook off early foul trouble to play lockdown defense that fed an extended 28-4 run to build a 61-45 lead and send the Oracle Arena crowd into spasms of joy.
The Warriors hit five of six three-point attempts during that stretch, and Durant had 11 points, including consecutive threes.
The Warriors’ lead reached 17 points, but they found themselves clinging to a precarious 98-95 lead after James scored the first basket of the fourth quarter. As he did whenever the Cavs threatened, Durant responded with a turnaround jumper and scored 11 of the Warriors’ first 20 points in the fourth. He was the ultimate difference.
“It feels amazing to win a championship with these guys,” Durant said. “I can’t wait to celebrate for the rest of the night — well, maybe the rest of the summer.”