The Golden State Warriors were the best team in the NBA from the very beginning of the season, and they simply would not be denied. A lofty 67-15 record propelled them into the playoffs. With the 16-playoff victories giving them 83 overall, only the ’96 and ’97 Bulls won more. They featured the league MVP in Stephen Curry, the first-year coach who should have been Coach of the Year in Steve Kerr, and one of the most passionate fan bases in basketball who finally got their reward.
Golden State defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers four games to two, to win the 2015 NBA Finals for their first world championship in 40 years. They join only the ’97 Bulls as teams to never lose three in a row at any point in the season. On top of that, every time they dropped two in a row they immediately followed it with a minimum three game-winning streak. In the Western Semifinals against Memphis, and the NBA Finals, they lost ‘games two’ and ‘three,’ and then swept the last three.
But this NBA Finals turned on the coaching chess match, won emphatically by Kerr. After Cleveland took ‘game three’ to take a 2-1 lead, Kerr decided a shakeup was necessary. He sent center Andrew Bogut to the bench, went smaller, and inserted Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup. At a time when Cavs Coach David Blatt could not find answers, Kerr did, and the series changed completely.
Iguodala is a 10-year veteran in the league, gold medal winner with Team USA, and had never played an NBA game that he did not start, over 700 of them, until this season. Kerr met with Iguodala in the preseason to tell him of the plan and Iguodala was very upset, even considering retirement. But after a cooling off period and the urging of his family and teammates he agreed to the change. He did not start all season, until ‘game four.’ Now he is a man with his long sought after championship, and the Bill Russell Finals MVP Award.
For Cleveland it was a tale of wearing down, and then out and of a superstar who was reminded that he cannot do it by himself. The loss of Kevin Love in the first round was compounded by the loss of Kyrie Irving late in ‘game one’ with a fractured kneecap. This left the rotation at six, rarely sometimes seven, and it took its toll. Golden State’s regular starting five, before Iguodala, missed a total of 15 games all season. Cleveland could not hold up.
LeBron James put on a show none will ever forget, nearly averaging a triple-double for the series: 36 points, 13 rebounds, and 9 assists. Despite losing, he received four MVP votes. His performance was that mesmerizing. But it is the fourth Finals loss in six trips for James. Michael Jordan won six out of six.
This was the first Finals which saw the first two games go to overtime, Golden State winning ‘game one,’ 108-100 holding Cleveland to two points in OT; and Cleveland winning a ragged ‘game two,’ 95-93. When Cleveland won ‘game three,’ 96-91, Kerr made the change. It made the Warriors quicker to force the tempo higher against the worn-out Cavaliers.
GS rolled 103-82 in ‘game four,’ outscoring Cleveland 27-12 in the fourth. Curry outdueled James 17-16 in the fourth, GS closing 19-7 to win 104-91 in ‘game five.’ Iguodala was the star of the clincher in Cleveland scoring 25 in the 105-97 victory, a Golden State indeed.