No one will argue the magnitude. The only debate is how the three plays will be labeled in Cleveland sports history.
“The Block,” “The 3” and “The D,” is how Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin described the monstrous efforts by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in the final two minutes of Game 7 in the NBA Finals.
James called them “The Block,” “The Shot” and “The Stop.” But that requires renaming one of the journey’s most devastating moments — Michael Jordan’s series-winning jumper over the Cavs’ Craig Ehlo in Game 5 of the first round of the 1989 Eastern Conference playoffs.
It seems inappropriate to replace such heartbreak, even if Irving’s 25-foot step-back jumper with 53 seconds remaining proved to be the clincher against the Warriors as the Cavs captured Cleveland’s first professional championship in 52 years.
However the plays are remembered, the Cavs’ Big Three had a huge hand in deciding the 93-89 victory at Oracle Arena on June 19. Here’s a look at each one:
The score was tied 89-all when Andre Iguodala rebounded a missed 5-footer by Irving and raced downcourt. Iguodala passed to Stephen Curry, who fired a bounce pass back to Iguodala. The 2015 Finals MVP snaked under the Cavs’ J.R. Smith and went to lay the ball in with his right hand. But James came from out of nowhere to chase down Iguodala and block the shot with 1:50 remaining, and Smith grabbed the rebound.
According to an analysis of the play by ESPN’s Sports Science, James was 88 feet from the Warriors’ basket when he began his pursuit and covered the first 60 feet in 2.67 seconds. That’s faster than ESPN’s clocking of All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles (2.80), who weighs 50 pounds less than James.
ESPN said Iguodala was still 7 feet closer to the hoop than James when he received Curry’s pass and James moved at 20.1 mph to close the gap. It credited Smith’s defense for giving James an extra .15 seconds to make up the difference and said James’ right hand was 11 feet, 5 inches off the ground when it hit the ball.
Sports Science measured that to make the play, James had a window of opportunity of two-tenths of a second, less time than it takes to pop the cork of a champagne bottle.
The score was still stuck on 89 when Cavs coach Tyronn Lue called a timeout with 1:09 left. While one of ABC’s analysts predicted the ball would go to James, it turned out to be an isolation play for Irving, who was defended by Curry. Irving shot off the wrong foot and drilled a step-back 3 over an outstretched Curry with 53 seconds remaining.
Afterward Lue called it “probably one of the biggest shots in NBA history,” especially since no team had previously come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals.
“I’m just hoping it goes in,” Irving said. “It was 89-89 for a good portion of the game, so I was just thinking the next team that scores has a great chance at winning the championship, and I hope that we can be the team that’s on that end.”
Curry didn’t know how close he got to Irving.
“I tried to reach at the ball, stay in front of him, make it a tough shot,” Curry said. “It was a tough step-back … It doesn’t matter how good or bad defense I played, he made the shot. So credit to him, he stepped up and took advantage of the moment. It was not a good feeling turning around and seeing it go in.”
It was the matchup the Cavs hoped for, Lue said.
“I wasn’t for sure if it was going to be a 3 or not. But Kyrie, the player he is, he’s not scared of the big moment, and he made a big shot for us,” Lue said. “That’s what we were looking for coming out of the timeout.”
After Irving’s 3-pointer put the Cavs on top, the Warriors looked for the equalizer. Maligned for his defense for most of the season, Love ended up on Curry after a series of defensive switches as the league MVP tried to get an open look behind the 3-point line.
The first time Curry touched the ball, Curry dribbled trying to get open, but Love denied Curry a driving lane and his trademark step-back to the left. That forced Curry to pass to Draymond Green on the wing, but Green quickly rifled the ball back. Love kept his feet moving as Curry hoisted an off-balance 26-footer that hit the back of the rim.
Lue’s words during the aforementioned timeout turned out to be prophetic.
“Just told the guys, ‘We need one score and one stop,’ and we were able to do it,” Lue said.
During the Cavs’ rally after their championship parade Wednesday, James mentioned the concussion Love suffered in Game 2 against the Warriors that forced him to sit out Game 3 and come off the bench in Game 4. Love was vindicated in Game 7, pulling down a team-high 14 rebounds despite shooting 3-of-9 from the field.
But it was Love’s defense James will remember most.
“You saw his struggles throughout the Finals, everything that happened from the concussion to sitting out to him having the shooting struggles and things of that nature, and everybody burying him alive,” James said. “To be able to respond like he did in Game 7, that’s what real men do. They respond in their most adverse times. We talk about the shot, we talk about the block, but the stop, that was on a two-time MVP, by the way. That was on a two-time MVP.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.