Oakland, California—After a generation of wishing and waiting, the Golden State Warriors have finally arrived on basketball’s biggest stage again, booking their place in the NBA Finals with a 104-90 win against Houston on Wednesday.
Stephen Curry had 26 points and eight rebounds and Harrison Barnes added 24 points as the Warriors completed a 4-1 series victory and advanced to the Finals for the first time in 40 years.
“Why not us?” league most valuable player (MVP) Curry said to a roaring crowd after the Warriors received the Western Conference trophy from Alvin Attles, the coach of their prior championship team in 1975.
“The Bay Area’s been waiting for 40 years,” Curry said later. “It’s time.”
Now looms a Final series that will be marketed as Curry versus Cleveland star LeBron James. King James vs. the Baby-Faced Assassin. The four-time NBA MVP vs. his successor.
The conference title is the biggest accomplishment yet in what has been a rapid rise for a Warriors team that is beloved in the Bay Area despite decades of futility.
Earlier, Cleveland routed Atlanta 118-88 on Tuesday to complete a series sweep and secure its place in the NBA Finals putting within reach the championship LeBron James craves more than any other, the one he came back home to get.
James scored 23 points and Kyrie Irving provided a boost after missing two games as Cleveland cruised to victory and set up a meeting with State.
The Warriors shook off a slow start and sweated out a shaky finish in Game 5 to close out the Rockets and set up a matchup with Cleveland beginning June 4.
Dwight Howard led Houston with 18 points and 16 rebounds. But MVP runner-up James Harden had a forgettable finale, with a playoff-record 13 turnovers and 14 points on 2-of-11 shooting.
“Tried to do a little bit too much and turned the ball over and gave them easy baskets in transition,” Harden said. “This isn’t where we wanted to end at. It’s a really good season for us. Next year we want to be better, and we will.”
It was a tough way for the Rockets’ run to end. They overcame a knee injury that sidelined Howard half the season to finish second in the Western Conference, played without starters Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas in the playoffs and rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round.
“The guys fought hard,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “One thing about the team is that they were battlers, and a lot of guys in that room you feel pretty comfortable going to war with.”
Curry said he had no lingering effects from his frightening fall in Game 4 that left him with a bruised head and right side. He wore a protective yellow sleeve on his right arm, which he shed in the third quarter after shooting 4 for 12 and the Warriors clinging to a 52-46 halftime lead.
Things got tougher on Curry and the Warriors when backcourt mate Thompson faked a shot that drew Trevor Ariza in the air early in the fourth quarter. Thompson absorbed Ariza’s knee to the side of his head, sending him to the floor.
Thompson, who finished with 20 points, lay on the ground for a minute before walking to the locker room. He came back to the bench after receiving stitches on his right ear.
The Warriors said he could’ve returned, but they never needed him. They started the fourth on a 13-4 run and held off Houston’s last-ditch efforts on free throws.
Barnes highlighted the decisive spurt with a dunk that gave Golden State an 87-72 lead with 7:10 remaining.
New owners turned the franchise into a contender since they bought the team in 2010. General manager Bob Myers, the NBA Executive of the Year, has constructed a talented roster around Curry that has exceeded all expectations. And first-year coach Kerr blended it all together beautifully after Mark Jackson’s messy firing last May.
“I always think of Pat Riley’s great quote when you’re coaching in the NBA, ‘There’s winning and there’s misery.’ And he’s right,” Kerr said. “It’s more than relief. It’s joy. Our players are feeling it. I know our fans are.”
None of Cleveland’s top sports teams—in the NBA, NFL or MLB—have won a title since 1964. The Cavaliers are four wins from ending that drought, and if they can, James will have a title that would put him in a class by himself. Other players have won more championships, but none has ever done it for his success-starved home region.
“We have everything it takes to win,” James said after the Cavs were presented with the conference trophy.
However, they’ve got their eyes on more than the Eastern Conference crown.
“Cleveland,” owner Dan Gibert said, addressing the crowd. “We’re not settling for this.”
James carried the Cavs to their first finals appearance eight years ago, when they were swept by San Antonio. Cleveland was a heavy underdog then and it was assumed the Cavs would get back again. But James left in 2010 to join the Heat, a move that dropped the Cavaliers from relevance and into the lower rungs of the standings.
His return to his home team, to play alongside Kevin Love—out for the season with a shoulder injury—and Irving immediately made the Cavaliers the team to beat in the East. It didn’t go exactly as planned under first-year coach David Blatt, who left his family in Israel to take the Cavs’ job.
“We’re in Cleveland,” Blatt cracked. “Nothing is easy here.”
The Cavs lost center Anderson Varejao to a season-ending Achilles injury in December and they were 19-20 before trading for Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov, a trio that provided the intended boost.
Irving, who missed Cleveland’s previous two games with tendinitis in his left knee, scored 16 and the All-Star point guard looked better than he has in weeks.
Unlike Game 3, when he missed his first 10 shots, James started much better and scored 15 in the first half as the Cavs opened a 17-point halftime lead. They pushed it to 20 early in the third, withstood a brief rally by the Hawks and spent the fourth quarter playing their reserves and getting ready for a party and some time off before the finals. AP