LeBron James leads Cavaliers past Warriors to win historic NBA championship – Orange County Register

OAKLAND – A cartoon likeness of pro wrestler The Undertaker stretched across LeBron James’ chest before Game 5, a not too subtle message about his mindset.

The Undertaker character is half-dead but still very alive, owner of supernatural powers and the ability to come back from wrestling’s most powerful moves. Powerbomb him, superkick him, bodyslam him – after lying flat on his back for a few seconds, he’ll sit up. Full of life. Full of anger. Ready to keep fighting.

This was not an accident.

“He’s calculated,” James’ longtime teammate James Jones said.

The message was clear – the Cleveland Cavaliers were merely down, not done.

And in one of the biggest games in the NBA’s history, Sunday’s Game 7, James and the Cavaliers took all of the Warriors’ finishing moves.

Draymond Green flexing after a physical 3-point play in the paint? Sit back up.

Klay Thompson curling off a screen before drilling a shot? Sit back up.

Stephen Curry stepping out way deep and hitting a back-breaker? Sit back up.

Somehow the Cavaliers, playing for themselves and a city that hadn’t won a championship in 50-plus years, never could be pinned, and following a 93-89 win, they walked out of Oracle Arena with the NBA’s championship belt.

It’s the first major championship in the city since 1964, when the Browns finished atop the NFL.

With the final horn buzzing throughout a stunned Oracle Arena, head coach Tyronn Lue almost ran off the court in glee. J.R. Smith collapsed to the ground.

And an emotional James, rightfully, got mobbed.

“I came back for a reason. I came back to bring a championship to our city,” James said. “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. Right now, it’s just excitement. It’s not even relief. It’s just excitement for us as a team, as a franchise, as a city, as a community.”

He provided the Cavaliers with the final cushion, summoning the toughness to split a pair of free throws after it looked like he might be done for the night.

In the final seconds with Cleveland up three, a hard foul sent James to the ground, his right wrist dangling while he pounded the floor in pain. Maybe this was the final blow.

Wincing in pain, one more time, he got up, his team and city on his shoulders, he responded to missing the first by hitting the second.

The Warriors didn’t get a chance to tie.

The teams traded 20 leads and shared 11 ties, until the final 90 seconds when Kyrie Irving hit the biggest shot in Cavaliers history.

After James’ game-clinching free throw, Golden State couldn’t muster any magic, walking off the court with a NBA record 73 wins but without the league’s championship trophy.

“I mean, we had a great regular season. Did something no team’s done before,” Curry said. “Fell short in the last game of the season. It hurts, man. I mean, that’s all I’m really kind of marinating on right now.

“…It wasn’t easy what we accomplished, and it’s not an easy pill to swallow what we didn’t accomplish.”

As he walked to the interview room following the game, the route cruelly took him past the Cavaliers’ celebration, which was spilling out of the visiting locker room. He gave a quick, wistful glance, before dropping his glance to the floor. Inside those doors, puddles of booze and cigar smoke made the celebration smell like a trashy Vegas casino.

But, that’s what a title smells like.

That party will come to the Cleveland streets Wednesday, team and city officials said later, with a triumphant James exiting the team’s plane with the championship and Finals M.V.P. trophies in tow.

It’s going to be the biggest party that Cleveland has ever seen,” James said.

And because of a masterful Game 7, a triple-double with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, he gets to throw that bash.

“Once we get to a Game 7, I’ll take my chances versus anybody, versus any team,” James said. “You give me one game, you give me 48 minutes, I’ll take my chances. Once we got to a Game 7, I was just confident. I knew what I was capable of doing.”

He averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists during the series.

With the score tied in the final minutes, James came from well out of frame to block Andre Iguodala’s go-ahead layup attempt from behind.

“Big-time player, best player in the world,” Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson said. “Makes big plays when we need it.”

Just like he did before Game 5, LeBron arrived to the arena with another message on his chest. This time his shirt had four letters, “RWTW” – Roll With The Winners.

By the time he left Sunday, he had made sure of that.

Contact the writer: dwoike@ocregister.com

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