Cavaliers Defeat Warriors To Win Their First NBA Title

Vilified when he left and celebrated when he returned, LeBron James had spent the past two seasons lugging his city's championship dreams like a bag of rocks. The weight had only grown more cumbersome — the weight of history, of disappointment, of missed opportunities.

James could feel it all on his sturdy shoulders.

On Sunday night, before a dazed and defeated crowd at Oracle Arena, James delivered on the grandest stage of his superhuman career, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first championship in franchise history with a 93-89 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the N.B.A. finals.

James collected 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists to punctuate one of the most remarkable individual performances in finals history. He got ample help from teammate Kyrie Irving, whose 3-pointer with 53 seconds remaining gave the Cavaliers their final lead — and one of the most improbable titles in the history of the N.B.A.

Improbable because the Cavaliers became the first team to rally from a 3-1 series deficit to win a title. Improbable because the Warriors, after setting an N.B.A. record with 73 victories in the regular season, had spent months making their case as the most dominant team since Dr. James Naismith first affixed a peach basket to a wall.

And improbable, above all, because of Cleveland's ragtag history as an also-ran. Not since 1964, when the Browns won the N.F.L. championship, had the city claimed a major sports title.

James, who grew up in nearby Akron, has forever changed all of that. He stuffed the series with thunderous dunks and fadeaway jumpers, blocked shots and glowering expressions, towing his teammates along in his ferocious wake. James won two championships with the Miami Heat, but this was his first with the Cavaliers — and his first for Ohio.

Not even the Warriors, who were pursuing back-to-back championships in a repeat of last year's finals matchup, could slow his march.

Irving finished with 26 points for the Cavaliers, who survived three elimination games. In Cleveland, fans jammed the streets around Quicken Loans Arena for a watch party from afar.

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Draymond Green had 32 points, 15 rebounds and 9 assists for the Warriors, and Stephen Curry had 17 points but shot just 6 of 19 from the field. In the final minute, Curry missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the game. With 10.6 seconds left, James made 1 of 2 free throws to seal the win.

The Cavaliers formed a raucous mob at the buzzer — joy and disbelief, all at once.

From the moment the Warriors set about stalking the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the best regular-season record in league history, they cautioned that it would mean almost nothing without a championship, too. The Warriors were greedy — they wanted all the records, all the wins and another trophy at the end.

Instead, they found their postseason journey to be more jagged than they imagined. The tenor of the team's chase was jarred off course in the first game of the playoffs, when Curry injured his right ankle. Three games later, he slipped on a wet spot against the Houston Rockets, spraining his right knee.

Though Curry eventually returned to help guide the Warriors back to the finals, thanks in part to a dramatic comeback against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals, Curry lacked his usual consistency. More trouble brewed against the Cavaliers.

Green had to watch Game 5 from a baseball stadium after he was suspended for collecting too many flagrant fouls. Andrew Bogut, their starting center, injured his knee and missed the final two games of the series. Andre Iguodala, James's primary defender, tweaked his back in Game 6.

As for Curry, his finals experience was an obstacle course of long-limbed defenders (he entered Game 7 shooting 41.9 percent from the field), spats with officials (he chucked his mouth guard after he was ejected from Game a6) and volleys from critics, who jabbed at his shooting and even panned the looks of a new version of his sneakers.

The Cavaliers were no strangers to adversity, either. Sensing what he described as dysfunction, General Manager David Griffin fired the team's head coach, David Blatt, midway through the season and replaced him with Tyronn Lue, one of Blatt's assistants. Griffin made the move despite the Cavaliers sitting firmly atop the Eastern Conference standings.

It was championship-or-bust for these Cavaliers, who, make no mistake, were formed in James's shadow. Not that his journey was without its share of hard feelings and trapdoors.

Drafted by the Cavaliers in 2003, James famously left for the Heat as a free agent in 2010. Fans who felt scorned by his departure burned replicas of his jersey in the streets of Cleveland. But James rejoined with the Cavaliers in 2014, vowing to lift the franchise to new heights, to do something that had never been done.

"I don't think people imagined it this way — the route that we've taken — and that's fine," James said Saturday. "Like I always say, every day is not a bed of roses, and you have to figure out how to get away from the thorns and the things of that nature to make the sunshine."

Nobody seemed consumed by the pressure. Warriors Coach Steve Kerr arrived at the arena following his usual game-day session of hot yoga with Luke Walton, one of his assistants. Kerr did make one change, sliding Festus Ezeli into the starting lineup at center in hopes of bolstering the team's interior defense.

The crowd stood from the opening minutes. The first half was fraught with tension. After James batted an attempted layup by Curry into expensive row of courtside seats, Curry got in James's face. An official had to separate them. Green, meanwhile, went 5 of 5 from 3-point range and scored 22 points to guide the Warriors to a 49-42 halftime lead.

The Cavaliers rallied in the third quarter. After Curry committed a turnover, Irving raced away for an acrobatic layup, drawing a foul for good measure. His free throw gave the Cavaliers a 5-point lead. A small subset of fans at Oracle started chanting, "Let's go Cavs!"

But neither team could find any separation, at least not until James and Irving emerged in the closing moments, not until it mattered most.