It was the game anyone who cares about sports in Cleveland had always dreamt about, and it was the game, on June 19, 2016, that the Cavaliers played.
Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Game 7, Game Heaven.
“IT’S OVER! IT’S OVER!” shrieked ABC’s Mike Breen when it was over — the game, The Finals, and Cleveland’s half-century championship drought.
Given the stakes and its context, it’s arguably the greatest Game 7 in NBA history, the greatest Finals in NBA history and certainly the greatest game in Cleveland sports history.
Sunday at The Q, the Cavs and the Golden State Warriors will play for the first time since Game 7, the game whose outcome so rattled the foundation of the preening Warriors franchise that when it was over, after they became the first team in NBA history to lose The Finals after leading 3-1, they immediately went out and signed free-agent scoring machine Kevin Durant.
Such is the magic, the mastery, and the majesty of LeBron James.
“If he pulls this off,” said ABC analyst Mark Jackson at the start of the Game 7 broadcast the night James pulled it off, “in my opinion it will be the greatest feat in the history of the game by an individual.”
He did, and it is.
The Block made sure of that. This wasn’t merely a blocked shot. This was THE BLOCK. By LeBron, who with 1:50 remaining in the game and the score tied at 89, sprinted the length of the floor to ambush a layup attempt by Andre Iguodola.
It’s the signature moment of LeBron’s career and will be the first highlight to be shown in the career retrospective on the day he retires. It was such a breathtaking moment that nobody knew what to say. Nobody had ever seen such a thing.
“OH! BLOCKED BY JAMES!” shouted Breen, in surprise. Then: eight full seconds of silence, as the game continued while Breen, Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy tried to process what they’d just seen. Finally, from Jackson, a half-reverential, half lame, “Wow.”
It wasn’t until later, when they showed a replay of it, that Van Gundy took his turn: “Oh. . . my. . . goodness. . . a superhuman defensive recovery by LeBron James.”
James’ block came in the middle of a pulse-pounding four-minute stretch in which neither team scored. From 4:53 left in the game to 53 seconds left in the game the score was 89-89.
Then somebody scored.
Irving, on the Shot of the Half Century.
The play worked perfectly. James inbounded to Irving who was covered by Klay Thompson. J.R. Smith, being covered by Steph Curry, set a screen at the top of the key for Irving, and, just as the Cavs hoped, Curry switched onto Irving, who drifted over to the right wing, beyond the arc. As the other four Cavs became wallflowers, Irving went to work on Curry.
“Everybody get out of my way. It’s time to dance,” said Jackson, over a subsequent replay of the most famous shot in Cavs history.
The Block and The Shot ended a drought, launched a parade, and reconfigured a powerhouse. Since the last time these two teams met the Warriors’ added four-time scoring champion Durant, while the Cavs’ biggest addition was, um, Mike Dunleavy?
These two teams appear to be this era’s version of the Celtics-Lakers, Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson steel cage matches from the 1980s. The Cavs and Warriors have met in the NBA Finals in each of the last two years. They are the favorites to meet there again this season, and if it happens it would make history.
It would be the first time ever that the same two teams met in the NBA Finals in three consecutive years. Sunday’s Christmas showcase at The Q will give us the first chance to judge how each team is doing in its Finals-or-Bust crusade. How do the Cavs, who only tweaked their roster over the summer, match up against the Warriors, who added another Cadillac?
On your superteam scorecard the Warriors now have four bad men to worry about: Durant, Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green. The Cavs have three: LeBron, Irving, and Kevin Love.
At crunch time LeBron can only guard one of the Warriors’ Big Four, but which one? On the other hand, the best player in the world is LeBron, and he plays for the Cavs.
The last time the Cavs hosted the Warriors in a regular season game at The Q (Jan. 18, 2016), the Warriors walloped the Cavs by 34 points (132-98) — and that was without Durant.
However, as was proven last year when the Cavs spit on the Warriors’ 73 wins in the regular season, when these two teams meet you can throw their records out the window.
Or you can ask Draymond Grinch to kick them out.
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