2015-2016 NBA CHAMPIONS
The Cleveland Cavaliers became the first team in NBA Finals history to overcome a 3-1 series deficit to win the NBA Championship. Defeating the Golden State Warriors in Oracle Arena on June 19th, the Cavaliers ended Cleveland’s 52-year major professional sport championship drought.
The key turning point in this series came after the Cavaliers’ 11-point Game 4 loss in Cleveland. After averaging just 16 points over 18 possessions per game as the Warriors jumped out to a 2-1 series lead, reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry broke out of his shooting slump to score 38 points over 33 possessions, including 13 in the fourth quarter, to put the Cavaliers on the brink of elimination.
For the Cavaliers part, Game 4 was easily their best performance in a losing effort in the Finals. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving combined to score 59 points over 60 possessions, a significant improvement on the 44.7 points over 54 possessions per game they had averaged in Games 1 through 3. The outlook for the Cavaliers remained bleak, and the encouraging play of James and Irving figured to be too little too late, as the series returned to Oracle Arena for Game 5.
Playing the Warriors to an even 61-61 score through the first half of the series’ first elimination game, the Cavaliers embarked on one of the most unexpected comebacks in NBA history as James and Irving combined for 82 points to win Game 5 and 66.3 points over 59.3 possessions per game.
A Closer Look
Coach Lue’s decision to turn over the keys to the Cavaliers offense to James and Irving paid major dividends as they quickly rebounded from their early shooting struggles and took it upon themselves to carry an astounding offensive load. Excluding any potential overlap, the pair created, assisted, or scored 276 of the Cavaliers 320 points over the final 3 games of the series. Even when they weren’t scoring, they found a way to will the Cavaliers to victory - creating openings for teammates and finding them in rhythm.
Digging deeper, the sheer volume of points James and Irving had a hand in to close out the series is even more impressive when you consider just how they were scoring them. Turning away from their traditional offense, the Cavaliers deliberately looked for James and Irving to force offense either early in transition or in whatever one-on-one matchup they could create. After averaging just 22.6 points over 25.1 isolation and transition possessions per game through the first four games of the series, James and Irving averaged 35.7 over 30 to close the series as James unexpectedly found his shooting touch, Irving lived up to his reputation as one of the game’s most creative finishers, and both players frequently looked to make something out of nothing by attacking multiple defenders on the break.
The Cavaliers play late in their series was certainly driven by James and Irving on the offensive end, but the team also picked up their defensive intensity during the same stretch. The Cavaliers struggled to get stops in one-on-one situations after switches through the first four games, allowing 18.2 points over 15.8 possessions per game. Allowing only 8.7 points over 12 isolation possessions per game to close out the series, Cavalier defenders came up with timely stops in unfavorable matchups when it mattered most.
The 4th Quarter of Game 7
Easily the Cavaliers’ most impressive defensive feat in this series came in the 4th quarter of game 7. Widely considered one of the greatest offensive teams of all-time, propelled by two of the game’s greatest shooters in an era now defined by the 3-point shot, the Warriors scored 2 points over the final five minutes and thirty seconds in Game 7 of the NBA Finals in Oracle Arena. The Warriors scored 17 points over the same period in Game 6.
A Closer Look
In the most important stretch of the most important game of the season, the best offense in the NBA sputtered. With 4 minutes remaining in the game, Stephen Curry missed the Warriors last truly uncontested shot of the NBA Finals. Their remaining 9 attempts were forced one-on-one attempts, an air-ball, a blocked layup, and a pair of contested spot up opportunities by Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green that didn’t hit the mark over the outstretched hand of Kevin Love.
Two of this series’ 3 most iconic moments came on the defense end for the Cavaliers in that Game 7 stretch.
LeBron James’s Incredible Block
LeBron James came out of nowhere to deny 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala’s fast break layup in spectacular fashion at the 1:50 mark.
Kyrie Irving’s Go-Ahead 3-Pointer
After starting the possession guarded by Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving dribble off a very deliberate screen set by JR Smith, looking to get Stephen Curry switched out on onto him. Stepping back out to the Oracle Arena sign before measuring, hesitating, and firing up what ultimately was the game-winning shot over Curry, Irving solidified his spot in NBA Finals lore. Irving had posted an impressive aFG% of 51% on such attempts during the regular season and has consistently ranked one of the NBA’s most efficient isolation scorers when healthy.
Most Valuable Player
Creating, assisting, or scoring 392 of the Cavaliers’ 703 points over the course of the 2016 NBA Finals, LeBron James was sensational, particularly late in the series. He became the first player in NBA history to lead all players in all five common statistical categories in any playoff series against one of the most dominant teams of all-time, adding yet another ring to his already sizable collection of NBA hardware. Looking as explosive as ever at age 31, James continues to redefine his legacy as he finishes his 13th NBA season on top. Creating, assisting, or scoring 392 of the Cavaliers’ 703 points over the course of the 2016 NBA Finals, LeBron James was sensational, particularly late in the series. He became the first player in NBA history to lead all players in all five common statistical categories in any playoff series against one of the most dominant teams of all-time, adding yet another ring to his already sizable collection of NBA hardware. Looking as explosive as ever at age 31, James continues to redefine his legacy as he finishes his 13th NBA season on top.