OAKLAND, Calif. — Even though the Cleveland Cavaliers dropped the NBA Finals 4-1 to a Golden State Warriors team that averaged a staggering 121.6 points per game in the championship round, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t feel like his team is that far behind The Beast From The Bay.
“They beat us tonight,” Lue said after the Warriors turned a three-point lead early on in the fourth quarter into a 14-point cushion before settling in for the 129-120 win to end the series on Monday. “I don’t see a big gap. I thought we played well, got better each game. But against good teams you can’t give away games, like Game 3 at home, and then expect to come here and win in a hostile environment.
“So when you have them beat, you have to beat them. You can’t go back and forth or teeter on the fence, you have to beat them. Letting Game 3 get away from us and then coming back to this gym, we knew it was going to be tough, but I thought our mindset was right. I thought we gave the right amount of fight, the right amount of physicality, and they beat us tonight.”
Cleveland built a six-point lead with just more than three minutes remaining in Game 3 before the Warriors finished on an 11-0 run to go up 3-0 in the series. The Cavs responded with a dominant Game 4 win, 137-116, to avoid the sweep but didn’t have enough to extend things back to Cleveland for a Game 6.
As confident as Lue’s outlook was when comparing his team to the Warriors franchise that has now beaten the Cavs in the Finals twice in the past three years, he admitted the defeat was devastating to digest.
“We had a moment,” Lue said of the postgame scene in the locker room. “I broke down, so I couldn’t really finish my speech. A lot of guys cried because they wanted it bad.”
Kyrie Irving desired the win so much he played injured in Game 5, tweaking his surgically repaired right knee in the first half, which caused further discomfort.
“After I hit my dang knee on the floor, after that my lower back started to tighten up,” Irving said. “And as the fourth quarter started to happen, a lot of shots and layups that I normally make, they just weren’t falling. So that kind of took the wind out of my sails.”
Irving went 0-for-6 in the fourth quarter after starting the game 9-for-16. He too believes the Cavs remain in striking distance of Finals MVP Kevin Durant and the Warriors.
“So they have an incredible team,” Irving said. “They beat us, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be back and we’ll be ready to battle again.”
LeBron James, after becoming the first player in league history to average a triple-double in the Finals (33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists) said he never conceded the series to the Warriors until it was nearly over.
“Not one time did I feel like we were overmatched until probably like I looked up, there was like 1:20 [remaining in the fourth quarter], 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.'”
James acknowledged that the Warriors are “going to be around for a while” and credited their roster featuring Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and a bench that outscored the Cavs reserves 35-7 in Game 5.
“They assembled a great team,” James said. “We were able to get them last year, and they went out and got one of the best players that this league has ever seen, so they did a good job of — a great job, their front office and their players, by doing that recruiting, the things that they did in the summertime, and obviously it paid dividends.”
The Cavs had the highest payroll in league history this season and their star players — James, Irving and Kevin Love — all under contract for next season. James doesn’t believe Cleveland is going anywhere either.
“I know our front office is going to continue to try to put our ball club, put our franchise in a position where we can compete for a championship year in and year out,” James said. “Like I said, teams and franchises are going to be trying to figure out ways that they can put personnel together, the right group of guys together to be able to hopefully compete against this team. They’re assembled as good as you can assemble, and I played against some really, really good teams that was assembled perfectly, and they’re right up there.”