LEBRON JAMES WINS UNANIMOUS FINALS MVP AFTER CAVS WIN GAME 7

OAKLAND, Calif. — LeBron James was unanimously named MVP of the NBA Finals for the third time following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 93-89 win over the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 on Sunday.

Over the seven-game series, James averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists with an effective field goal percentage of 53.3. He became the third player to record a triple-double in Game 7 of the Finals, joining Jerry West in 1969 and James Worthy in 1988.

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“Best player on the planet,” Cavs teammate Kyrie Irving said.

Later, Irving compared James to Ludwig van Beethoven: “I’m very thankful that I have a guy like that that’s leading our team that I can continue to learn from. And when my time does come of being able to lead a franchise and see the landscape of how it’s supposed to be composed, I watched Beethoven right now of LeBron James compose a game.

“He had a freakin’ triple-double in Game 7 of an NBA Finals game. There will still be naysayers, but I know it doesn’t matter to him. It doesn’t matter to me. All that matters is we’re champions, and our whole team is etched in history.”

James won consecutive Finals MVPs in 2012 and 2013, when he notched his first two titles with the Miami Heat. He returned to Cleveland as a free agent in July 2014. In addition to delivering the city its first major sports championship since 1964, James led the Cavs in becoming the first team in NBA history to rally from a 3-1 series deficit to win the Finals.

“I came back for a reason,” James said. “I came back to bring a championship to our city. I knew what I was capable of doing. I knew what I learned in the last couple years that I was gone, and I knew if I had to — when I came back — I knew I had the right ingredients and the right blueprint to help this franchise get back to a place that we’ve never been. That’s what it was all about.”

James punctuated his historic Finals performance with a dramatic final two minutes of Game 7. With the game tied 89-89, James pursued the reigning Finals MVP, Andre Iguodala, on a Warriors fast break and recorded one of his trademark “chasedown” blocks as he rejected Iguodala’s layup attempt.
LeBron James became the third player to record a triple-double in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, joining Jerry West in 1969 and James Worthy in 1988. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Moments later, with the Cavaliers leading 92-89, James took a hard spill to the floor after being fouled by Draymond Green. He writhed in pain and held his right wrist before returning to his feet. Then he drained one of two foul shots to extend Cleveland’s lead to four with 10 seconds remaining.

“You see his basketball talent, the way he can control a game,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “But the reason why he deserves this is because he has a great heart … and great things happen to great people.”

James is now 4-2 all time in Game 7s and 2-0 when the ultimate game comes in the NBA Finals.

Leading Everyone In Everything

LeBron James is the first player in NBA history in any series of any length — regardless of round — to lead outright or tie for the lead among all players from both teams in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks for an entire series.
LeBron James in 2016 NBA Finals
FINALS RANK*
Points 208 1st
Rebounds 79 1st
Assists 62 1st
Steals 18 1st
Blocks 16 1st
*Among players from both teams
— Elias Sports Bureau

LEBRON JAMES PERFORMANCE DRIVES CAVS TO GAME 7

CLEVELAND — This was the version of LeBron James that Mike Miller had seen before, a mode that has been activated just frequently enough for Miller to give it a name: “Ain’t gonna lose.”

“He ain’t gonna lose,” LeBron’s friend and former teammate repeated as he walked out of Quicken Loans Arena, where James had just put together his second consecutive 41-point game — with 11 assists, eight rebounds, four steals and three blocked shots to boot — to send his Cleveland Cavaliers back to Oakland for a championship-deciding Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors.

Miller was along for the ride as James’ teammate for these kinds of performances in the Miami Heat’s first championship run in 2012. Forty-five points and 15 rebounds in Game 6 at Boston in the Eastern Conference finals. Forty points, 18 rebounds and nine assists in Game 4 in Indianapolis after the Heat fell behind 2-1 in the previous series. James did not allow his team to lose those games on his watch, and now he has barred the Warriors from stepping through the door for their second consecutive championship.

“He ain’t gonna lose Game 7, either,” Miller said.

This is the latest and the greatest challenge for the Warriors. They battled historical standards all season and kept prevailing. Now they’re up against an all-time great player who is very much in the present, who is trying to make history of his own by making his team the first to come all the way back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals. (Only two of the previous 33 teams to fall behind 3-1 even forced a Game 7.)
Will LeBron James block Stephen Curry’s bid for a second straight NBA title? Ron Schwane/Pool Photo/USA TODAY Sports
James’ performance also dwarfed a stellar effort from Stephen Curry, who scored 30 points in what became only the Warriors’ third loss in the 20 playoff games in which he has reached that plateau. But LeBron’s greatness meant that for all of Curry’s shot-making the Warriors were still outscored by 11 points while he was on the court. James, meanwhile, was plus-26.

“He’s playing great,” Curry said. “He’s doing things that are game-changing and helping his team win. He’s been more aggressive shooting the ball.”

LeBron also seemed to have some extra zeal in blocking a Curry layup attempt, then turned over his shoulder to mouth some words at Curry.

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It wasn’t the most frustrating moment for Curry, who picked up his sixth foul while trying to steal a pass intended for LeBron, then threw his mouthpiece in anger, striking a fan with it. It drew a superfluous ejection after the foul out, and certainly will draw a fine. A suspension for Game 7 is theoretically possible, but would the NBA really deprive fans of the reigning MVP without a history of misbehavior in a winner-take-all game?

Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s bank account will be at least $25,000 lighter as well after he pointedly critiqued three of the fouls called on Curry in addition to griping that the Cavaliers are constantly holding his players when they cut through the lane. He didn’t go so far as to hang the loss on the officiating. He knew the real culprit was the Warriors’ dismal first quarter, in which they shot 23 percent overall (1-for-9 on 3s) and scored only 11 points. They fell behind by 22 points, too big a hole for Curry plus a 15-point third quarter from Klay Thompson to overcome.

Every time the Warriors had a glimmer of hope, reducing their deficit to single digits in the fourth quarter, LeBron snuffed it out. He scored or assisted on 27 consecutive Cavaliers points during a stretch in the second half. And he addressed his only flaw in Game 5 — his shot faltered when the minutes accumulated — with a 17-point fourth quarter, featuring 6-for-9 shooting, four assists and two blocked shots.
He looked tired — he could barely get the ball over the rim after one pass from Kyrie Irving gifted him a layup — but refused to sit down until the outcome was assured with a 21-point lead and two minutes remaining.

“With our season on the line, at the end of the third quarter, he said, ‘I’m not coming out,’ ” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “I didn’t have any intention of taking him out anyway. I don’t care what y’all say.”

Leaving LeBron in while he’s at peak levels is a rare coaching decision that not even the social media age could shred.

LeBron himself should be beyond any shade at this point, after the way he kept the injury-riddled team competitive in last year’s Finals, and the way he has tilted this series. When ranking NBA players, the question you should ask is which one would you pick first if you had to win a playoff game? No one in this decade comes ahead of LeBron.

The Warriors get to head home, which at the moment is their greatest benefit from winning a record 73 games during the regular season. Home teams have won 15 of the previous 18 Game 7s in the NBA Finals. Decades of NBA history against the man of the moment.

“I’ll take it,” James said.

Seems like a fair enough fight.

LEBRON JAMES, KYRIE IRVING BOTH SCORE 41 TO FORCE A GAME 6 IN THE NBA FINALS

OAKLAND, Calif — On the campus of the Old School, they will pass out mimeographed copies of the box score from Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals and point to this as a moment that the tried-and-true ways prevailed, that inside beat outside and that the star system stayed intact.

The Golden State Warriors spent most of the past two years subverting all of those steadfast NBA truths, raining in 3-pointers and sending LeBron James to defeat after defeat on many nights when he was the best player on the court. Not in Game 5. Not when James controlled the floor with 41 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and three blocked shots — owning or sharing the game-high totals in each of those categories. And not when Kyrie Irving was the next-best player — more valuable in the fourth quarter, actually — with 41 points of his own.

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James called Irving’s game “probably one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen live.” LeBron’s visual history would have to include his own 45-point, 15-rebound, 73 percent shooting Game 6 in Boston in 2012 to keep his first championship run in Miami alive. That one still ranks higher for its singular majesty; Dwyane Wade was the Heat’s next-highest scorer that night with 17 points.

Monday night was the first time a pair of teammates went for 40-plus points in the same NBA Finals game. And now the Cavaliers still have hopes of another historic achievement: becoming the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the Finals.

It helped that this wasn’t exactly the same Warriors team that won three of the first four games in this series. Draymond Green served his one-game suspension for exceeding the flagrant foul points threshold in the playoffs for his whack at James near the end of Game 4. Without him, the Warriors were lost on defense and couldn’t go to the lineup configuration featuring him at center that had wreaked havoc on the league since last year’s Finals.

Their roster was further depleted by a left knee strain suffered by center Andrew Bogut early in the third quarter. With none of their backup centers making contributions, the Warriors went supersmall by sending Shaun Livingston in with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes. They couldn’t provide enough offense to make up for their defensive shortcomings.
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving kept Cleveland’s season alive with an unprecedented performance. Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
The Warriors were exploited inside throughout the game. Cleveland scored 46 points in the paint, topping the Warriors’ 42 points scored on 3-pointers. Golden State clearly missed Green’s ability to provide rim protection and even his yelling, with Warriors coach Steve Kerr lamenting several defensive communication breakdowns. Curry called Green the “center fielder” on defense.

As long as we’re making cross-sport comparisons, let’s discuss the quarterbacking job LeBron did. He surveyed the defense in the third quarter, found the mismatches against the small lineup and used the Warriors’ overcompensation to his advantage.

Six of his assists came in the third quarter. He might fake the pass inside, draw the defenders and pass back to a trailing Irving for a wide-open 3-pointer. Or throw a lob to Tristan Thompson against the overmatched James Michael McAdoo for a foul and free throw.

James’ jump shot was the most surprising. The Warriors left him to shoot, and he found a rhythm, to the point he even made a fallaway, contested 3-pointer. At that point, he had as many 3-point baskets as Curry at four, which was quadruple James’ average for the playoffs.
Curry was below average, missing 13 of his 21 shots and 9 of 14 3-pointers. Klay Thompson made 6 of 18 3-pointers in the first half but went 0-for-5 in the second half.

James cooled off too in the fourth quarter, but that’s when Irving took over, hitting 5 of 9 shots to put the Warriors away.

When the Warriors hoped to rely on their superior depth, they didn’t have in mind playing Brandon Rush, Anderson Varejao, McAdoo, Leandro Barbosa and Marreese Speights to close out a game in which they’d fallen hopelessly behind.

The Warriors didn’t get to treat their fans to a championship celebration at home. They didn’t bail out Green for his costly lapse in judgment. They didn’t avoid their privately feared scenario of suffering an injury in a now-extended series.

Every downside of the Warriors came into play in this game, from Green’s occasional foray past the emotional boundary to careless ballhandling to defensive lapses.

And the feature that the old professors kept insisting would get them — the reliance on the 3-point shot — came to the fore, as well. The party was canceled, the revolution was paused and the future remained there.

This was a tribute to the past, right down to the pair of vintage LeBron chase-down blocks. The Cavaliers reverted, and thus, their season remains in the present tense.

CAVS GO COLD IN THE FOURTH, DROP GAME 4 TO WARRIORS

CLEVELAND -– After three blowouts to open the series, Game 4 of the NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors was shaping up to be a classic, until a late surge by the defending champions put the game -– and perhaps the championship -– out of reach for the Cavs.

For the first time in nine playoff games on their home floor, the Cavs lost, seeing an eight-point lead in the third quarter turn into a deciding 11-point final margin, 108-97.

By the end of it, what was already a bad loss turned truly bizarre. LeBron James scrapped with Draymond Green after stepping over him, a la Allen Iverson, who once stepped over James’ coach, Tyronn Lue. James and Steph Curry talked trash at center court during a stoppage in play. And a shirtless fan ran onto the court with “Trump Sucks” painted across his chest and was summarily tackled by security and escorted out.

A Cleveland fan came up to press row late in the fourth quarter and announced, “This crushes our soul.”
Kevin Love was initially effective coming off the bench, but Love, LeBron James and the rest of the Cavs made too many mistakes down the stretch to hold off a resurgent Warriors offense. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
The Cavs, down 3-1 with Game 5 this Monday at Oracle Arena, will need to win three straight games (two on the road) for a chance to snap a 52-year title drought in the city of Cleveland.

The Cavs, up by five at halftime, were outscored 58-42 in the second half as the Warriors repeatedly hit timely 3-pointers (17-for-36 from downtown as opposed to 6-for-25 for the Cavs) and shut down Cleveland in the final quarter, save for a final flurry of buckets by James with the game already all but over.

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Kevin Love came off the bench for the first time in his Cavaliers career after being cleared from his concussion and mustered 11 points and five rebounds in 25 minutes.

James’ final numbers –- 25 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and two steals -– looked OK until you consider that he had seven of the Cavs’ 11 turnovers.

So many preconceived notions about the series were dispelled -– that Curry was too hurt to be his old MVP self (38 points, six assists), that Kyrie Irving’s over-dribbling leads to nothing but all sizzle and no steak (34 points on 14-for-28 shooting), that James Michael McAdoo was nothing but a bench player (did anyone have him playing in the fourth quarter in their office pool?).

But the end result was the same notion most people had coming into the series: The Warriors are the better team and the Cavs would have to defy the odds to make it a series.

KIMBO SLICE DEAD AT 42

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WILL SMITH AND LENNOX LEWIS TO SERVE AS PALLBEARERS FOR MUHAMMAD ALI FUNERAL

Actor Will Smith and former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis will be among eight pallbearers in services held Friday for Muhammad Ali.

The services for Ali in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, will include a procession and private burial and, later in the day, a public memorial at the KFC Yum! Center. It will be held at 2 p.m. ET, with 15,000 tickets available.

Ali died Friday night at the age of 74.

Smith was nominated for Best Actor by the Academy Awards for his portrayal of Ali in Michael Mann’s 2001 biopic “Ali.”

Lewis, like Ali, was both a former heavyweight champion and Olympic gold medalist.

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Smith and Lewis will be joined as pallbearers by John Grady, Ali’s cousin; Ibn Ali, Ali’s nephew; Komawi Ali, Ali’s former brother-in-law; Jerry Ellis, brother of Jimmy Ellis, who was Ali’s former sparring partner and also a former heavyweight champion; Jan Wadell, Ali’s first cousin; and John Ramsey, Ali’s family friend.

Friday’s memorial service will be open to the general public with tickets available at the arena’s box office starting Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. ET.

Friday’s services will follow a Thursday prayer service at Louisville’s Freedom Hall arena, which starts at noon ET. The Freedom Hall box office will open Tuesday at 10 a.m., with a maximum of four tickets per request.

Ali died June 3 from septic shock due to unspecified natural causes.

Ali spent the final hour of his life surrounded by his family after initially being hospitalized in the Phoenix area on May 30.

CAN LEBRON JAMES BRING THE CAVS BACK TO WIN THE FINALS?

OAKLAND, Calif. — LeBron James’ assessment of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 110-77 loss to the Golden State Warriors to fall behind 2-0 in the NBA Finals on Sunday was appropriately dour considering the score.

“We didn’t win anything,” James said as he sat at the postgame podium. “[In] no points of the game did we beat them in anything.”

There is plenty of blame to go around for this Cavs team with the second-highest payroll in league history that suddenly can’t buy a bucket with a title on the line, shooting just 35.4 percent as a group in Game 2 after what seemed like an as-bad-as-it-gets 38.1 percent in Game 1:

Kyrie Irving is shooting 33 percent for the series with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 5-to-6.

J.R. Smith is disappearing on the big stage, just as he did last June, totaling eight points through the first two games.

Tristan Thompson, he of the $82 million contract extension this past offseason, had eight points and five rebounds in Game 2 while Draymond Green — who re-upped with Golden State for the exact same amount of money in the summer — put up 28 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

The Cavs’ bench was outscored 85-41 through two games.

Kevin Love, through no fault of his own after catching a Harrison Barnes elbow to the back of the head in the second quarter, has entered into the league’s concussion protocol, putting his availability moving forward in question.

And then there is James.
LeBron James’ seven turnovers against the Warriors on Sunday tied a season high. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
His series averages, in a vacuum, are exemplary: 21 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists and 3 steals per game so far. The unfair truth of the situation, however, is that if there is one person to point to explain the reason for Sunday’s result, it’s probably him.

“I got myself in a lot of trouble tonight personally,” James said. “Turned the ball over way too much. And I said after Game 1 we just can’t turn the ball over against a great team and expect to win, and I had basically half of the turnovers.”

James had seven turnovers, to be exact. Against a team as lethal as Golden State in the open court, gifting that many possessions and trying to compete is like bowling with a beach ball and expecting to still knock down pins.

“No heart, no toughness, no resilience,” one source close to the team told ESPN.com. “Those three things are LeBron included.”

There was seemingly history on James’ side going into Sunday. He had been 9-0 in his past nine postseason games played with his team facing a 1-0 series deficit, always finding a way to even it up ever since that buzzer-beater he hit against Orlando in 2009. He had won a road playoff game in 25 straight series, besting Michael Jordan’s previous all-time best mark of 24. He had that epic 39-point, 16-rebound, 11-assist effort in an overtime win in Game 2 at Oracle Arena last year, and that was with the team missing Love and reeling from the news that Irving also would be out for the rest of the postseason.

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Then again, never before had he faced a team like Golden State, which made its own stake on history Sunday, pushing its overall record to 87-14 for the regular season and postseason combined, tying the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (87-13) as the only other team to amass that many wins from opening night until the close of the Finals.

“I’ve got to be better,” James reiterated. “I’ve got to be better with the ball. You know, trying to play-make for myself and play-make for my teammates at the same time, I’ve just got to be more solid.”

And that’s saying nothing of James’ defense, which was marred by slow closeouts on Green all night, contributing to his 5-for-8 mark from deep. Nor does it account for his body language, which showed the stress of the night when Golden State started its onslaught in the second quarter.

“He struggles,” said James Jones, who has played with James the past six seasons. “He doesn’t want to have a bad game. He fights it. Some games when he’s struggling, he’ll fight it, and sometimes he’ll dig himself a deeper hole because he has the ability to climb up out of it. So, the only thing is that he’s overly competitive. Sometimes that can get in the way, where he wants it so bad he’ll go for the home run. He’s had [bad games] before. He usually bounces back. One thing I know for sure, his confidence never wavers. So we don’t have to worry about that.”

Cleveland, of course, would not be back in the Finals for a second consecutive year without James. The appreciation for his positive impact on the franchise goes without saying.

But it cuts both ways. His teammates, understandably, rely on his consistent excellence. When he doesn’t live up to his own ridiculous standards, not only does it show in the box score, but it weighs on the team’s psyche as well.

“That’s something that we as teammates have to be better at,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, we’re responsible for ourselves. So, we can feed off him and he can provide us leadership and pace us and tempo, but we have to be able to pick him up, too. It’s not a one-way street. So, his mood definitely impacts our team, but as a mature team, we have to be better than that. We have to understand when he doesn’t have it going, when he’s struggling, we have to go to another level to pick him up.”

“I think we all need to be better,” added Matthew Dellavedova. “It’s not just one guy. It’s a team thing. And for us to beat them, it’s going to take everybody.”

Last June, with the Cavs down 3-2 and facing elimination before Game 6 back in Cleveland, James infamously boasted, “I feel confident because I’m the best player in the world. It’s that simple.”

When asked about the prospect of how he’ll spend his time before Wednesday’s Game 3 — something that might as well be an elimination game, as no team in league history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit — he was far more reserved.

“The next couple days … I won’t be reflecting,” James said. “I’ll figure out ways I can be better, starting as soon as I leave this podium. Probably go back to the room and watch the game, re-watch for ways I could have been better …

“I’m one of the guys who kind of always wants to shoulder the blame and take the blame when we don’t play as well as we should. It’s just how I am. And I’ve got to be better.”

It’s the Cavs’ only hope.