With less than a minute left in the final quarter of the season’s final game, Kyrie Irving crossed the ball between his legs, one, two, three times, before picking up his dribble, squaring up, and letting the jumper fly.
The shot zipped through the net, giving Cleveland a three-point advantage that, 53 seconds later, would prove fatal for the Golden State Warriors.
When the buzzer finally rang after a heart-racing, hair-rising 48 minutes, the Cavaliers had done what few thought was possible: take down Golden State in front of a roaring Oracle Arena crowd, notching a Game 7 victory, 93-89.
It was the Cavaliers' first championship in franchise history.
After the series' first six games ended in double digits, fans finally got their money’s worth Sunday night, as Game 7 proved to be the chess match we were all waiting for. It was a contest of runs, in which neither the Cavs nor the Warriors ever seemed fully comfortable, perhaps accounting for what was a poor shooting outing for both clubs.
Cleveland, true to form, was led by Irving and LeBron James. While Irving poured in 26 points -- three of which clinched the Larry O’Brien trophy for the state of Ohio -- James pocketed a triple-double, tallying 27 points, 11 dimes and 11 boards.
But it was James’ defense that came up big when the contest was on the line.
With less than two minutes to play, the Warriors looked poised to take the lead, as wing Andre Iguodala snatched up the ball, feet from the basket, with the Cavaliers' transition defense in disarray.
But just as he has done time and time again this series, James didn’t give up on the play, seemingly coming from nowhere to swat away the layup attempt, thereby keeping the contest knotted at 89 and setting up Irving’s heroics a minute later.
The born-and-bred Ohioan was visibly emotional throughout the post-game ceremony. James had made it clear since returning to Cleveland in 2014 that bringing a title back to his hometown was his one and only goal.
Now, he's done that too.
"Cleveland, this is for you," James said after the game.
While the two teams seemingly traded baskets every play all night, the third quarter allowed them to finally (and temporarily) create some distance. With his Cavaliers coming out of the locker room down seven, Kyrie Irving threw the team on his back, scoring 12 points in the period, and proving his fluency both on the perimeter and in the paint.
J.R. Smith, too, helped Cleveland stymy Golden State, making up for a poor shooting performance from James. With Smith and Irving leading the way, the Cavaliers erased the Warriors’ halftime lead and proceeded to take a seven-point lead of their own, before Golden State snaked their way back into the thick of things, entering the fourth up one.
The first half, meanwhile, was a 24-minute tug-of-war, as Golden State’s threes were followed up by Cleveland’s moves in the key, time after time down the court. While a few minutes into the second period, the Cavaliers led points in the paint, 20-6, the Warriors had hit 10-of-21 from deep by intermission. Cleveland, on the other hand, converted just 1-of-14 from long range, not hitting a single trey until just 7:01 remained in the half.
From the 7:58 mark of the first through the 2:28 mark of the second, we had just a one-possession game on our hands. But the Warriors were long overdue for an offensive outpour, especially as Draymond Green had been kindling the flame all game.
Coming into Game 7, Green was averaging just 13.4 points per game this series on 29.2 shooting from deep. But in Sunday’s opening 24 minutes, Green shot 8-of-10 from the field, knocking down all five of his attempts from deep -- totaling 22 points, six rebounds, five dimes and two steals.
He drilled four threes in the second quarter alone -- two of which came in a 24-second span bracketing the four-minute mark -- spurring the Warriors onto a 14-7 run to end the half.
Green would finish with a game-high 32 points and 15 rebounds.
True to form, the opening half wasn’t without some chipiness. In a sequence strikingly similar to a certain Game 6 transition play, James swatted stuffed a Curry layup. Once more, Curry wasn’t pleased -- and the two greats spent a few moments jawing at each other before continuing play.
The series' seven games, while increasingly contentious, were never actually competitive until Sunday's showdown. The Warriors won their three games by a total of 59, including a 33-point Game 2 romp, while the Cavs also pocketed their three victories prior to Sunday's contest by a combined 59 points.
Really, the series wasn't even supposed to last this long. After blowing their way past Cleveland in three of the opening four games, the Warriors were predicted to ride into the sunset in five games -- six, at the most. But two heroic performances from Irving and James -- including a Game 6 in which they each scored 41 -- led Cleveland to make history, becoming the first Finals team in five decades to force a Game 7 after being down 3-1.
And with Sunday's thriller, the Cavaliers made history again -- becoming the first club in league history to win the title after being down three games to one.
With his Herculean performance all series long, James nabbed the Finals MVP award.
Congratulations to the city of Cleveland -- you've waited long enough.