The final buzzer is nearing for 2019 and with that, the decade is coming to a close as well. Before the 2010s turns over into the 2020s, take a look back at the best basketball moments of the decade for the SLAM PH Team.
Where were you during the last two minutes of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals?
I was at home, shocked and almost speechless trying to comprehend what had just happened.
With 1:56 left in the game and a slew of missed shots coming from both ends, Andre Iguodala rebounded a Kyrie Irving miss and saw an opportunity to secure an easy bucket in transition. A well-threaded pass from Steph Curry gave Iguodala enough space to finish the transition layup.
But as Iggy was about to lay the ball in, The Block happened.
It was a routine play for any team to advance the ball, especially when they know that they can’t get anything out of their halfcourt sets. However, what the Warriors missed out was that it takes a once-in-a-generation talent to stop an almost certain shot.
After an exchange of contested shots and one timeout, then came Cleveland’s version of The Shot which sealed the fate of the Warriors and allowed the Cavaliers to climb out of a 3-1 hole to win their first NBA Championship.
Before diving into how much of a ripple effect a single game has created, it’s best to first examine the events which led to the historic matchup.
It was destined that the two top-seeded teams in their respective conferences were slated to meet in the Finals once again. A burgeoning Warriors team proved too much to handle for a depleted Cavaliers squad in their previous Finals match-up. The heavyweight rematch in the playoffs became the league’s most awaited matchup since the stakes were high for both teams.
A championship during the 2015-2016 season was the only thing needed by the Golden State Warriors to cement their legacy as one of the most dominant NBA teams of all-time, after finishing 73-9 in the regular season. Standing in their way was a fully healthy Cleveland Cavaliers team, who were out to seek revenge for their loss in the previous year.
With these storylines shaping the narrative of the 2016 NBA Finals, the final game of that series will go down as one of the greatest games that was ever played.
In the aftermath of the series, a new NBA was born.
LeBron James’ historic Game 7 Finals win will undoubtedly be his career-defining feat. That was when the narrative on him shifted and he became a hero to his hometown. With that win, the King transformed into a god among basketball mortals.
For starters, James became the only unanimously voted Finals MVP after leading in all five statistical categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. The King was also able to drop vintage performances along the way. Immediately after being down 3-1, he became part of the only duo to drop 40 or more points in the same game, a record he shares with Kyrie Irving. If that’s not enough, during his last performance of the season, he became only the third player to register a triple-double in a Finals Game 7.
But more importantly, James proved to the world that he was more than just a stat-chaser. He was also a bonafide winner and the events which led up to Game 7 only magnified that fact. Who would’ve known in 1984 that a humble kid from Akron would give his city its first championship in over 50 years, to complete a promise that he made before taking his talents elsewhere, in pursuit of greater heights?
The result of Game 7 also had an effect on the Warriors and the rest of the league. It launched a league-wide arms race for recruiting all-star players and the formation of an unthinkable super team.
Before all the talks of them even making the playoffs, the Golden State Warriors set the truest example of how to assemble a contending franchise the right way. They were just about to reap the harvest of the seeds they planted all the way back in 2009 when they drafted Curry, and then Thompson, and Green in the following years after. After signing a few seasoned veterans like Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, and Andre Iguodala, the cast all came together when long-time analyst Steve Kerr was placed with the imperative task of bringing home a championship.
But event with all that talent and a vaunted system that revolutionized the league, the Warriors still ended up bending a knee to the King.
That sparked a league-wide notice for teams to recruit high-profile talents to even just make a case for playoff contention. Player mobility surged during the following summers after the ‘16 Finals. From a business standpoint, a new television deal for the NBA saw the team’s salary cap skyrocket as well.
This surge saw gave the Warriors enough cap room to pull off the notorious signing of Kevin Durant shortly after the NBA Finals. That launched the era of player empowerment. The growing notion that teams were only expanding their arsenals prompted players to join bigger teams to increase their chances of winning a title while at the same time, putting their best interests in mind.
Today, the league is still seeing the effects of the events that happened in the summer of 2016 as the free agency period of 2019 was one of the most highly-anticipated off-seasons in recent memory.
The 2016 NBA Finals not only changed the way people saw the league, and the league’s best player. It also opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for basketball in general.
Before the 2016 Cavaliers-Warriors series, there were only 10 teams who came back from a 3-1 deficit in the Playoffs. The most recent team was the Warriors against the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals of that year.
It’s already a huge accomplishment to win three straight games in a Playoff series. But the Cavaliers accomplished something truly historic with their Game 7 win. They came back from a 3-1 deficit against the full-health defending champion, who broke the all-time record for the most number of wins in a regular season, on the league’s grandest stage. That kind of scenario only exists in a child’s wildest imagination.
That Game 7 will forever be living proof that anything is possible in basketball.