The fatalist fears were realized. On July 4, 2016, Kevin Durant announced he was joining a Warriors team that had won an NBA-record 73 games the season before. Many declared the next few titles decided then and there, with others cautioning no championship is a foregone conclusion. Two years, two titles, and two Finals MVPs for Durant later, and it’s hard to argue that July 4th was a death knell for NBA championship competition. With a hat tip to J.R. Smith, George Hill, Chris Paul’s hamstring, refs Ken Mauer, Tony Brothers, and Ed Malloy, and the board that bore the brunt of LeBron’s right fist after Game 1, Golden State completed the sweep so many NBA fans expected two summers ago with a 108-85 Game 4 rout of the Cleveland Cavaliers to capture the 2018 NBA Title.
It says something that Finals MVP was trending for much of Game 4; the vote for the award was more competitive than the series. Steph Curry poured in 37 points, going 7-for-15 from deep to lead all scorers, but it was Durant, after recording his first-ever playoff triple-double (20 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists), who again accepted the Bill Russell Finals MVP award from the trophy’s namesake.
It is the Warriors’ third title in four years, and Durant’s second in his second season with the team. His 43-point, 13-rebound, 7-assist eruption in Game 3 effectively ended the series (no NBA team has come back from a 3-0 deficit) and clinched his Finals MVP for at least one voter in a 7-4 win over Steph. It might not prove effective, but Durant did try to downplay any in-team rivalry with the other Warriors MVP:
“I know Steph doesn’t care about stuff like that,” Durant said when asked if he might be a little worried Curry wanted his first Finals MVP. “I really wasn’t even expecting to do any of this. I was just trying to win and I thought we both played well. MVPs or not, I thought we both played great basketball to help us win.”
Regardless of the Finals MVP, the Dubs dynasty is real. Three titles and four consecutive Finals appearances has seen to that, even if they’ve enjoyed an embarrassment of riches these last two seasons. Class clown Nick Young claimed after the win, “I’m running for President,” and might’ve had the line of the night:
Nick Young: “I went from getting snitched on to putting a ring on!” pic.twitter.com/FpgSRgn0yC— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) June 9, 2018
Except, for all of Swaggy’s tomfoolery, and a lit Jordan Bell on live TV, post-win comments from veteran role player David West hinted at untold drama that stayed behind the scenes during Golden State’s second consecutive run to a ring:
Warriors forward David West says there was a lot going on behind the scenes that people will be shocked about when it comes out.— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) June 9, 2018
The enigmatic quotes offer hope to disillusioned fans hoping an implosion might discontinue Golden State’s inescapable reign. However, it’s now officially the end of the season, which means draftniks and free agency followers can get to the real reason they’re so amped up about the offseason.
In the home locker room, this might be the final time LeBron James is at the Q in a Cavs uniform. However, before talk of his future, the shock after the final bell sounded was the hand injury James and the Cavaliers kept quiet since after that heartbreaking loss in the opener:
“Self-inflicted, post-game after Game 1,” James said of the right hand contusion that was revealed after Friday night’s loss. “[It happened] for a lot of different reasons: Understanding how important Game 1 is on the road for our ball club; What [a win] would have done for us; The way we played, the calls that were made throughout the course of that game. The game was taken away from us. You just don’t let opportunities like this on the road vs. Golden State to be able to get a Game 1. I let the emotions get the best of me, and pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand.”
With 4:03 left in Game 4, coach Ty Lue subbed LeBron out. He acknowledged every Warriors player before he took a seat as the Cleveland crowd serenaded him with “MVP” chants. As was his usual fate this season after Kyrie Irving was traded last summer, he just didn’t have enough around him to really make the Warriors sweat. For the series, he averaged 34 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 10 assists. MVP numbers in any other year, against any other team.
So now the LeBron watch officially begins, as the best player in the world is expected to opt out of the $35.7 million the Cavs owe him next season. The parsing of James’ body language and diction for hints about his next destination began in earnest at the podium after the game.
Wherever James ends up next year, even if it’s back in Cleveland, everyone hopes he’s got a stronger squad around him, one that can make June feel less like this year’s postscript, and more like the the crescendoed conclusion NBA fans deserve.