OAKLAND, Calif. — Last July, five NBA all-stars met in a room in the Hamptons on Long Island. Four of them — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala — sat on one side of the table, fresh off an epic collapse from a 3-1 lead against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. On the other side sat Kevin Durant, the future Hall of Famer presented with a unique opportunity in his first foray into unrestricted free agency: the chance to join a 73-win team without it sacrificing any of its core to add him to it.
So it was fitting Monday night, when the Warriors found themselves in the exact same position — holding a 3-1 lead over these same Cavaliers, trying to close out the NBA Finals on their home court here at Oracle Arena — that Warriors Coach Steve Kerr went repeatedly to the lineup he is often reluctant to use, no matter how unstoppable it is — the five all-stars playing together.
The result was Golden State earning a 129-120 victory, completing the mission it has been on since watching the Cavaliers celebrate here last June and adding Durant last July, winning a second championship in three seasons.
“We learned from everything we’ve been through,” Curry said. “It’s for these fans, our organization, our families. . . . It’s something special. Now I want to do it again.”
Behind 39 points from Durant and another 34 points and 10 assists from Curry, Golden State emerged with the title the Warriors have spent a year waiting to receive. And they did so because that quintet of all-stars, who carried these Warriors to 67 regular season wins and a never-before-achieved 16-1 record in these playoffs, were finally able to vanquish a Cavaliers team that would not quit.
“Every game is different,” Kerr said Sunday, when asked about his decision to play his five stars together for just 17 minutes through the first four games. “If we don’t have to go to that lineup, we don’t need to.
“But every game is unique to its own circumstances, and we just adapt accordingly.”
The circumstances in Game 5 were obvious: The Warriors had a chance to close out this series at home and to avoid even acknowledging the possibility of a repeat of last season’s collapse. So Kerr went to his star lineup often — including for the final 8:50 of the game — knowing that if it worked, there would be a full offseason for everyone to rest.
That’s exactly how it turned out, in no small part because Durant — who came to Golden State after falling short in his first eight seasons of shooting for the championship he has dreamed about since his days playing at Seat Pleasant Activity Center in Prince George’s County — had the kind of game to close this championship out that dreams are made of.
His final line — 39 points on 14-for-20 shooting, including 5 for 8 from three-point range, to go with seven rebounds and five assists in 40 minutes — was the culmination of a brilliant five games that fully earned him the series MVP award by unanimous vote and validated his decision to join Golden State to all but his harshest critics. Those numbers included Durant going 5 for 7 from the field for 11 points in the fourth quarter to blunt every attempt by LeBron James — who had 41 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists — to extend his season by another game.
“It’s a team sport,” Durant said while holding the MVP trophy in his right hand. “We want to achieve the highest honor in a team sport, which is to win a championship. We’re champs now.”
The Warriors undoubtedly looked more aggressive and energetic from the opening tip Monday. But being more aggressive and energetic didn’t prevent the Cavaliers from getting off to a similarly hot start to the one they enjoyed in Game 4. Cleveland hit nine of its first 11 shots and got 12 points each from Kyrie Irving and James in the first quarter to jump out to a 37-33 lead after one.
Then, after Cleveland opened the second quarter with a pair of dunks from James — including an insane fast-break dunk by James over Durant that looked like James should’ve earned a foul shot on, as well — there were audible murmurs throughout Oracle Arena as the Cavaliers took a 41-33 lead.
Could this be happening again? Could the Warriors — this super team, constructed with few, if any, weaknesses to specifically avoid this kind of moment — possibly allow James and the Cavaliers to once again make this a series after it was supposed to be over?
Then, in a way only these Warriors can, they ensured that they would not. Over the next several minutes — officialy from the 9:57 mark of the second, when David West made a midrange jumper, to when Curry made a technical free throw after a skirmish involving Golden State’s David West and Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith with 3:08 remaining in the first half — Golden State went on a 28-4 run to storm back into the lead, returning the feeling of inevitability to the proceedings in the process.
“You learn from your mistakes,” Green said. “Obviously we had a letdown last year, but like I told everybody before, if Kevin Durant was the consolation prize to lose, thanks for that loss, and we’re champs this year.”
And while the Cavaliers didn’t quit, and kept coming, they never once regained the lead. As the final seconds ticked off, it was the Hamptons Five on the floor for the Warriors, and Durant dribbling the ball over half court, one fist raised in the air, so excited that, at one point, he stopped dribbling and cupped the ball against his side as he skipped along, though no one seemed to notice or care.
It was a mission accomplished. It was a championship earned. And, 11 months after that fateful meeting in the Hamptons, the Golden State Warriors became NBA champions.