CLEVELAND — Suddenly, almost out of nowhere, it seemed, 40 long years of frustration and rotten luck, ineptitude and irrelevancy came to a close for the Warriors on a bright Sunday in northeast Ohio.
The drought came to an end the way the only way they could for rookie coach Steve Kerr’s team — with talent and depth and poise and teamwork, all the things that took them to 8 3 victories in a season that was as remarkable as it was historic.
It came to an end in a 105-97 victory in Game 6 of the NBA Finals over the Cleveland Cavaliers, a game bunch that was undermanned and overmatched at the same time.
“We felt like it would work,” Kerr said of the master plan that was put in place less than a year ago. “But I’d be lying to you if I said that I felt like we were going to win the less the NBA title.”
Yet win it they did. When the deed was done, the players hugged and whooped it up. Then they hugged and whooped it up some more, while a few hundred fans chanted “War-riors! War-riors!” in the background.
“I gotta get this to the locker room,” star guard Stephen Curry said while he ran down the hallway, Larry O’Brien Trophy in his hands, the smell of champagne detectable even outside the door.
“We’ll remember this for a long time,” promised selfless veteran Andre Iguodala, who fittingly was named the Most Valuable Player of the series after he didn’t start a single game in the regular season.
“No. 1!” co-owner Joe Lacob yelled while he shook his fist not once but twice at midcourt.
Of course, one voice was louder the the rest.
“Game 7?! What’s that?!” Draymond Green screamed to no one in particular more than once. “Told ya so!”
History will say the final game was played on June 16, but the best-of-seven series was over days earlier, really. When Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving went down with a dislocated left kneecap in the series opener, any hopes of the first championship in franchise history went down with him.
“This would have been a different series with Kyrie and Kevin Love,” Kerr made sure to point out.
With no second scorer to ride shotgun, James tried desperately to carry the team on his back. But as brilliant as he was for much of the series, the load proved to be too great.
Once again, James put up King-sized numbers — 32 points, 18 rebounds, nine assists — but he shot only 13 of 33 in the field and was guilty of six turnovers.
“Obviously, I knew it was going to be a tough task, and I continued to tell you guys we were undermanned,” said James, who congratulated Curry in the final seconds. “I don’t know any other team that has gotten to the Finals without two All-Stars. I don’t know if it has ever happened.”
Meanwhile, true to their Strength in Numbers brand, the Warriors had plenty of contributors.
Curry and Iguodala scored 25 points each, while Green had a triple-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Festus Ezeli and Shaun Livingston pitched in 10 points apiece off the bench.
The Warriors bolted to a 28-15 lead in the first period and trailed only briefly the rest of the way.
In the process, the Warriors quieted a nation of doubters. As far back as the preseason, critics such as Charles Barkley contended that a team so reliant on the 3-pointer could not survive in the playoffs.
While the Cavaliers tried to pound the ball inside, which was their best chance to stay in the series, the Warriors continued to move the ball quickly and fire away from long range. They connected on 13 bonus balls and outscored the home team by 21 points from behind the arc.
Told ya so, indeed.
“I don’t worry about that stuff,” Kerr said. “The only thing I felt like occasionally pointing out, which I never did, we were the No. 1 defensive team in the league, and that’s what wins.”
Like it or not, that’s the formula for success in the NBA game these days. It’s called the Warriors way. And in the 2014-15 season, nobody did it better from start to finish.