KD BARS DOOR

Du­rant’s MVP ef­fort pushes Warriors to an­other ti­tle and se­cures his first

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Ta­nia Gan­guli

OAK­LAND — With 55 sec­onds left in Game 5 of the NBA Fi­nals, Kevin Du­rant fi­nally let him­self take in the grav­ity of what was hap­pen­ing around him. At half­court he bent down and won­dered if it all was real.

“Dray­mond was like, ‘Keep play­ing to the end,’ ” Du­rant said. “An­dre is like, ‘Keep play­ing. We have like 50 sec­onds left.’ And I’m like, ‘Bro, we’re about to win the ti­tle.’ ”

Their mis­sion is com­plete — his mis­sion is com­plete. On Mon­day night this su­per team that is chang­ing bas­ket­ball beat the Cleve­land Cava­liers 129-120 and won the NBA cham­pi­onship. The win capped a near-per­fect post­sea­son and was the cul­mi­na­tion of a plan to re­cover from the em­bar­rass­ment of one year ago. They are cham­pi­ons for the sec­ond time in three years, a year af­ter fin­ish­ing sec­ond.

It was An­dre Iguo­dala soar­ing through the air for dunks. It was Stephen Curry lean­ing back for a jumper, get­ting fouled, then ly­ing on the floor like a starfish as his team­mate beat his chest in cel­e­bra­tion. It was Dray­mond Green steal­ing the ball. It was Du­rant’s drib­ble speed­ing up as he pre­pared to sink yet an­other crush­ing three-pointer.

It was LeBron James walk­ing up the court, down 11 points with 50 sec­onds left, aware of the un­avoid­able truth.

This Game 5 was not last year’s Game 5. This time the Warriors ab­so­lutely were not go­ing to give it up. Du­rant — who joined the Warriors only last sum­mer af­ter their col­lapse in the 2016 Fi­nals — would not let it slip away.

Du­rant scored 39 points in

was Stephen Curry lean­ing back for a jumper, get­ting fouled, then ly­ing on the floor like a starfish as his team­mate beat his chest in cel­e­bra­tion. It was Dray­mond Green steal­ing the ball. It was Du­rant’s drib­ble speed­ing up as he pre­pared to sink yet an­other crush­ing three-pointer.

It was James walk­ing up the court, down 11 points with 50 sec­onds left, aware of the un­avoid­able truth.

This Game 5 was not last year’s Game 5. This time the Warriors ab­so­lutely were not go­ing to give it up. Du­rant — who’d joined the Warriors only last sum­mer af­ter their col­lapse in the 2016 Fi­nals — would not let it slip away. He’d waited 10 years for this.

“Life doesn’t usu­ally work out,” Warriors gen­eral man­ager Bob Myers said. “Most times, it doesn’t. Tonight, it did for him.”

Du­rant scored 39 points in win­ning his first cham­pi­onship, Curry fin­ished with 34 points and Iguo­dala had 20. James led the Cava­liers with 41, Kyrie Irv­ing had 26 and JR Smith scored 25.

A year ago, no con­fetti fell in Or­a­cle Arena. The Cava­liers had won Game 7 to com­plete an im­prob­a­ble come­back to win the ti­tle af­ter be­ing down 3-1, some­thing no team had ever done be­fore in the Fi­nals.

The Warriors re­sponded by as­sem­bling one of the great­est col­lec­tions of tal­ent ever seen in the NBA. They added Du­rant, a for­mer league MVP, a sea­son af­ter win­ning 73 games.

They built a team so good that it with­stood an in­jury to one of its best play­ers (Du­rant), a de­bil­i­tat­ing ill­ness to its coach (Steve Kerr) that pre­vented him from coach­ing most of the play­offs, and a pro­longed slump by one of its best shoot­ers (Klay Thomp­son).

The Warriors en­tered the Fi­nals ca­pa­ble of be­com­ing the first team in NBA his­tory to sweep ev­ery round of the play­offs. They would have done it, were it not for the steely re­solve of the Cava­liers to not al­low them­selves to be de­meaned like that.

The Cava­liers had been 12-1 in the play­offs be­fore the Fi­nals, only to lose the first three games to Golden State. In Game 4, they punched the Warriors right in the face and the Warriors did not fight back. The Cava­liers’ 24 three-point­ers set a Fi­nals record, their 49 firstquar­ter points set a Fi­nals record and so did their 86 first-half points. They blew out the Warriors.

Be­fore that game the Warriors, rid­ing a 15-game play­off win streak, were too loose.

“Ner­vous is good,” Kerr said. “Ap­pro­pri­ate fear is the Gregg Popovich line. You need that. And when we come out at the be­gin­ning of Game 4 and lose shoot­ers and turn the ball over care­lessly, we’re ob­vi­ously not ready.”

He wanted nerves be­fore Game 5, and the kind of fo­cus that would help the team avoid last year’s dis­as­ter.

With a les­son learned from Game 4, the Cava­liers punched the Warriors in the face again Mon­day night. They knocked them around phys­i­cally to start the game. The Cava­liers shot well again, too, though mostly from two-point range, mak­ing 15 of 24 shots over­all. By com­par­i­son, Warriors the only shot 47% and made only two of seven three-point attempts.

Cleve­land led by as many as eight in the first quar­ter and took a 37-33 lead into the sec­ond.

The Cava­liers led by nine when the Warriors fi­nally woke up and punched back. David West and Iguo­dala shrank the deficit. Then Du­rant erased it. He hit backto-back threes to give the Warriors their first lead of the sec­ond quar­ter and pro­pelled a 21-2 run from which Cleve­land never truly re­cov­ered. The Cava­liers got as close as three in the fourth quar­ter. But Golden State never trailed again.

With 55 sec­onds left in the game, Du­rant fi­nally let him­self take in the grav­ity of what was hap­pen­ing. At half court he bent down and won­dered if it all was real.

“And Dray­mond was like, ‘Keep play­ing to the end,’ ” Du­rant said. “An­dre is like, ‘Keep play­ing. We have like 50 sec­onds left.’ And I’m like, ‘Bro, we’re about to win the ti­tle.’ ”

Said Curry: “You got to call Kevin Du­rant a champ now.”

He added words that should ter­rify the rest of the league.

“We’re ob­vi­ously just get­ting started.”

Marcio Jose Sanchez As­so­ci­ated Press

THE OB­JECT of the Golden State Warriors’ af­fec­tion is the Larry O’Brien Tro­phy, awarded to the NBA cham­pion. Play­ers, coaches and team own­ers Joe La­cob, left, and Peter Guber, cen­ter, share the hard­ware af­ter the Warriors clinched their sec­ond ti­tle in three years.

Thearon W. Hen­der­son Getty Images

THE TWO best play­ers in the Fi­nals were LeBron James (23) and Kevin Du­rant, but Du­rant had the bet­ter team, in­clud­ing Stephen Curry (30).

Marcio Jose Sanchez As­so­ci­ated Press

A 39-POINT NIGHT capped a stel­lar NBA Fi­nals for Kevin Du­rant in which he av­er­aged 35.2 points, 8.4 re­bounds, 5.4 as­sists and 1.6 blocks in five games. He shot 14 for 20 from the field in Game 5, 55.6% for the se­ries.

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