Game 5, the 2017 NBA Finals and the 2016-17 season ended on Monday evening, with Golden State’s 129-120 championship win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. We can’t chuck away a campaign, though, without at first acknowledging each end of the title spectrum.
Steve Kerr’s heard the strains of “We Are the Champions” before. He won five NBA championships as a player and offered perhaps the loudest belts during the Warriors’ 2015 championship just prior to the head coach’s debilitating back surgery. Kerr made it back in time to watch Cleveland celebrate under the strains in 2016 but had to sit out for a goodly chunk of this postseason before standing front and center for Golden State’s clincher in Game 5.
There Kerr was, though, shaping his team’s rotation on the fly, winning a seventh title before gnashing his way into a smile at the same center court where he will receive his seventh NBA championship ring this fall. Having earned it with a fascinating blend of styles and sense, taking equal parts from coaching tropes both certain and evolving. On court and off.
After a poor attempt at shuffling away from ABC’s Doris Burke at the championship award podium (foot speed was never one of Kerr’s strengths as a player), the coach fell back on his instinctual brand of wiseass when speaking to the national television audience:
“Well, we had very little talent, actually. It was mostly coaching.”
Kerr, in case the humorless were not on board, shifted:
“I’ve got the best job in the world,” he reminded, with Draymond Green and his button-cute daughter dancing beside Kerr. The ABC camera shifted to JaVale McGee, who had worked through seven coaches in eight infamous seasons before winning a title as a helpful bit player in Golden State. Under Kerr, his ninth coach (who also gets to coach four All-Stars).
“These guys are so gifted, and so committed to each other, and so unselfish. I love the players, love the coaches, [general manager] Bob Myers has been such a great friend to me over the years,” Kerr acknowledged. He then credited assistant coach Mike Brown, who turned in an 11-0 record as Warriors interim head coach, during the playoffs no less, while Kerr sat out due to complications from that 2016 back surgery:
“I want to say a special thank you to Mike Brown, and my whole coaching staff, for keeping the ship sailing smoothly while I was out.”
Kerr could rely on Brown and his remarkable staff to keep the fire; that was never in question. Nor was Golden State’s inevitable return to the championship podium. Bad or even average coaching was never stopping this team. Brown and the rest of the staff reminded of their mettle and talent by working at peak capacity in that undefeated run.
What was in question was Steve Kerr’s presence, as the NBA expectedly suffered for his absence during his time spent away from the sidelines, despite some notable return appearances.
In the end, we had him throughout – minding the store in the Game 5 comeback win, taking the stage as he should after sweating through a suit.
Steve Kerr has pulled confetti off his tongue before, so Monday night’s celebrations will rank as nothing new. After a fruitless 2015-16 spent half away and a 2017 run that threatened to leave him sidelined for the title game, this return ranks as something special. In a career full of remarkable, legendary moments, Steve Kerr may have just given himself his lead highlight.
Steph and KD
Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant ran the MVP game for three years between 2014-16, so recently that their successor has yet to be named, and it showed throughout these Finals.
Durant was a scorcher yet again, nailing his fifth 30-point game in a five-game series, well earning the 2017 NBA Finals MVP, tossing in 39 points on 70 percent shooting, matching each Cleveland Cavalier run in the second half with an answer offensively. Up to the point where the Cavaliers weren’t defending champions anymore.
Those Cavs took the title from Curry’s Warriors, before Durant ever came along, though nobody but Durant would argue that his name wasn’t trending on the phones of each and every Warrior throughout 2015-16. These guys probably texted Durant’s name enough that Facebook ads featuring Kevin Durant’s shoe endorsements littered Golden State’s phone bank.
Stephen was injured and not nearly as effective in his final games played without Durant, struggling through a bad knee sprain and losing the title after Golden State had established a 3-1 lead in the 2016 NBA Finals. Curry was sublime in Game 5, though, and throughout the series: 34 points and 10 assists in the clincher, looking as springy and incorrigible as ever all the way here in the middle of June.
Irving was stunning in these Finals, make no mistake, again wowing us with not only his obvious highlights, but the subtle tics behind his flicks toward the willing rim that have his observers drooling lakes.
Game 5 was something to miss, though. The Cavaliers’ point man scored 26 points on 22 shots through the withering defense of (mostly) Klay Thompson, adding six assists with two turnovers, a pretty stellar night for just about anyone interested in playing this game.
The fourth quarter saw his touch and nerve leave him, though. Irving clanged all five of his looks, he waved off screens and worked at times with LeBron James to decimate ball movement at the worst moments.
It didn’t cost Cleveland a title, Golden State won things 240 times before Cleveland lost a bit of these Finals, but Irving’s presence could keep the inevitable at arm’s length for another game – a very workable situation for a Cavs team that had the game within a single-possession for spaces in the third and fourth quarters.
Not because the 2017 postseason was, let’s be honest, as bad as we’ve seen in years. Not because these Finals went but five games, heavily filled with blowout minutes, when seven games seemed appropriate for this rubber match.
No, because of the typical pangs.
LeBron James was amazing in Game 5 – however many trillions of games in, the guy still actually amazes us. James blew a few defensive cues, D-Wade-style, but by and large he was as forceful as ever on his way toward 41 points on 19-30 shooting, with 13 rebounds and eight assists. He averaged 33.6 points with 12 rebounds and 10 assists per game in this series, and we won’t get to see that again until October.
Same goes for Durant and Curry, who look like they could play again on Tuesday, two in-prime world-changers who will most certainly not play an NBA game on Tuesday or on any other day until next autumn.
Steve Kerr returned but a week ago, though not for long due to the season’s end, and J.R. Smith (25 points in Game 5) was just getting going. Tristan Thompson (15 points, eight rebounds) had just started to figure nearly most of it out (though the Warriors, in Game 5 as in other games, were happy to let him determine things on the fly).
Instead, Deron Williams’ 3-pointer that could have cut it to two points at 93-91 spun out, capping a frustrating first championship round for the veteran (he missed 14-16 shots, both looks on Monday), keeping us from more games. Nothing’s ever enough in the face of these Warriors, who we also won’t get to watch again any time this June.
What we got remained worth it, but that doesn’t leave us wanting less. For now, we’ll spend the summer outside, demanding that the leaves turn color.
More NBA Finals coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Durant wins NBA Finals MVP award after winning first title
• Stephen Curry smokes championship cigar live on TV
• NBA Finals winners/losers: Steve Kerr is a champion again
• LeBron was the first person to congratulate Kevin Durant
• Even ‘Jeopardy’ is taking shots at Kevin Durant for joining the Warriors
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