Well, is it too early to start talking about Round 4?
Not if you’re these Golden State Warriors and these Cleveland Cavaliers, it’s not.
For now, the Warriors are the champions — again. It’s the second time in three seasons. It’s the first title for Kevin Durant, who hopped ship last summer and joined a team he couldn’t beat as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
If all Durant wanted was a nice payday and a championship, he made the right decision. And guess what? That’s really all most NBA players want.
Final score: Warriors 129, Cavaliers 120 in the fifth and final game of the NBA Finals on Monday, and also, the final night of the 2016-17 season.
Let the countdown to 2017-18 begin. The Warriors and Cavs pulled an NBA first by playing for three straight titles. The Warriors got two of ’em. Your move, Cavs.
Durant was named Finals MVP, and deservedly so. Every time LeBron James and the Cavs crept back in games, or even took leads, Durant was there with a demoralizing 3-pointer or fadeaway in a defender’s face.
Forget for a moment Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and the rest. Durant signed up with the Warriors and down went the defending champs.
He scored at least 30 points in all five contests, including 39 on a sizzling 14-of-20 from the floor in the deciding game. But perhaps his most lethal moment came on that dagger three to put the Cavs in an insurmountable 3-0 hole back in Cleveland.
“I don’t see a big gap,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue told the media about the difference between the Warriors and Cavs, “but when you have them beat, you have to beat them.”
Lue was referring to the pivotal Game 3, when the Cavs failed to hold a seven-point lead with 3 minutes left.
So what now?
For the Warriors, it will likely be much more of the same — and why not?
Durant was marvelous, Curry scored 34 in the clincher, and Draymond Green grabbed 12 rebounds and made lots of big plays. Andre Iguodala, a free agent as of July 1, scored 20 off the bench.
Unlike the main players, the veteran Iguodala may move on to a bigger payday since the Warriors are certain to be capped out. But what guts he always gave them.
Meanwhile, the Cavs received another remarkable performance from their leader, as James because the first player in league history to average a triple-double in the Finals. Not Magic Johnson, not Michael Jordan, not Larry Bird, not Kobe Bryant.
In this one category, James stands alone.
He finished with 41 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in his final inspirational performance of 2016-17. With a start like James, the Cavs and their fans already cannot wait until next year.
“Not one time did I feel like we were overmatched, until probably when I looked up, and there was like 1:20 left, and we were down 13, I believe, or something at that point,” James said. “And I was like, OK, we left everything on the floor, and it still wasn’t enough.”
Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith are prime examples of that statement.
Irving battled and battled and battled his way through an achy back that required a sideline massage, finishing with 26 points.
And Smith overcame a horrendous start to the series to give the Cavs a fighting chance in the final three games. That was especially the case Monday, when he went 9-of-11 shooting, including 7-of-8 on threes, for 25 important points.
Tristan Thompson added 15 points and eight boards, but the Cavs didn’t get nearly enough from Kevin Love (six points, 10 rebounds) and an underachieving bench.
In the end, the defending champions let their emotions pour out, realizing their dreams of a repeat had been dashed.
“I broke down so I couldn’t really finish my speech,” Lue said. “A lot of guys cried because they wanted it bad. And that’s all you can ask.”
Warriors? Cavs? Round Four?
Ah, yes. Who will win it next?
“It’s a hell of a series,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “Five games didn’t do it justice, just how competitive it was. There were times where I was just stunned looking at all the talent on the floor.”
Kerr may not have to feel disappointed because, again, the Warriors and Cavs may see each other here again.
“We’ll be back,” James told Irving, the two of them making their way to the locker room after a Finals game this season, one final time.