OAKLAND, Calif. — As a fresh NBA champions cap sat a tad off-kilter on his head, Kevin Durant embraced mother Wanda. Then he moved across the podium and hugged Stephen Curry before accepting his shiny MVP trophy, holding out his arms and hoisting it for everyone to see.
From the Bay all the way to OKC.
Durant capped his spectacular first season with the Warriors by bringing home that coveted NBA championship he joined Golden State last July so determined to get, scoring 39 points in a fast-and-furious, Finals-clinching 129-120 victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 on Monday night.
"You can talk about whatever you want to talk about, but nobody comes in and cares about the game or loves the game as much as I do or works as hard as do I at the basketball game. You can talk about whatever happens on the outside, but inside those lines, I come to bring it every day," Durant said. "I work hard, I believe in myself, I believe in the game, I respect the game, I love the game, and I knew at some point in my life that it will come around for me."
Stephen Curry added 34 points, 10 assists and six rebounds as Golden State closed out its second title in three years after squandering a 3-1 lead a year ago. That stung ever since, and even Durant understood, because he gave up the same lead to the Warriors a round earlier with Oklahoma City.
James, who in 2012 with Miami beat the Thunder in Durant's only other Finals, wound up with 41 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.
"I left everything on the floor every game," James said after averaging a triple-double in his eighth Finals.
Kyrie Irving followed up his 40-point gem in Game 4 with 26 points but shot 9 for 22.
This time, King James gave way to KD, who was the NBA Finals MVP 10 years after being picked second in the NBA draft behind Greg Oden.
Durant drove left, right and down the middle, knocked down 3-pointers, dished and dunked. He hit a 17-foot fadeaway over James early in the fourth quarter, then assisted on a 3-pointer by Andre Iguodala the next time down as the Warriors pulled away.
Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP, came up big again with his 2017 postseason-best 20 points off the bench in a testy, tightly called finale to this trilogy Finals that everyone had stamped on the calendar from the moment Durant departed Oklahoma City to join Curry and Co. last July.
(Click PLAY to watch Steph Curry's
The Warriors won in 2015 before the Cavs made their historic comeback last year. Then it was Golden State's time again, with Durant as the prized addition.
Sure, the Warriors missed becoming the first undefeated champion, but 16-1 still gave Golden State the best winning percentage of any title team at .941.
Durant shot 14 for 20 and Curry - the two-time reigning MVP who took a backseat as the new big star got acclimated - finished off a brilliant postseason. Not to mention a healthy one after his 2016 injuries.
Green stayed on the court in a game that featured three technicals on one play 3:08 before halftime. David West fought for the ball with Irving, then they got tangled up and Tristan Thompson entered the fray and he and West went at each other face-to-face. West, Thompson and J.R. Smith received techs after a replay review.
Green had sat out this very game a year ago, suspended because of flagrant foul point accumulation after he swiped at James' groin in Game 4. He had 10 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in the clincher.
"I had a letdown last year," Green said. "If KD was the consolation prize to lose, thanks for that loss, and we're champs this year."
With a much-improved bench led by Iguodala, JaVale McGee, Shaun Livingston and West, that "Strength In Numbers" slogan that has become such a staple the past two seasons shined all season long, from Durant's 19-game absence late in the regular season with a left knee injury to assistant coach Mike Brown stepping in for 11 postseason games to lead the way while Steve Kerr was ailing.
Golden State used a 28-4 second-quarter run to take charge - just after it appeared Durant should have been called for a third foul on a basket by James - and got to celebrate right at home in Oakland surrounded by a deafening home crowd waving yellow rally towels and holding up phones to shoot video and photos as the final minute of the clock ticked away.
The Warriors became the first Bay Area team to capture a championship at home since the A's finished the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1974 World Series.
A year ago, these Warriors fell short after a record-setting season that included a 24-0 start and 73 victories at the end to break the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' wins mark.
Then they got Durant, who after the buzzer sounded did a little shake with Curry on the court before they slapped hands several times.
Two playful superstars who found a way to coexist through all the questions and constant scrutiny, together and smiling as champions.
"I'm happy for him," Curry said. "You've got to call Kevin Durant a champ now."
James spectacular again, but his efforts not enough for Cavs
As confetti fell on the court, LeBron James gave Kevin Durant a long embrace and congratulatory words before walking off the court with his head held high despite a fifth career NBA Finals loss.
After averaging a triple-double over the five games, James knew there was little more he or his teammates could have done to beat a Golden State Warriors team that proved too talented this year with the addition of Finals MVP Durant.
"I have no reason to put my head down," James said. "I have no reason to look back at what I could have done or what I shouldn't have done or what I could have done better for the team. I left everything I had out on the floor every single game for five games in this Finals, and you come up short."
James had 41 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists and Kyrie Irving added 26 points but the Cavs never could dig out of a hole created by a second-quarter barrage and ended their season with a 129-120 loss to the Warriors in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday night.
Cleveland has now lost two of the three showdowns in this Finals trilogy. Their one title came last year when the Cavs became the first NBA team to rally from a 3-1 Finals deficit to deliver the city its first major championship since 1964.
The Cavs managed to stave off elimination once in this series with a 137-116 win in Game 4 at home but couldn't pull off another improbable comeback this year.
"We were able to get them last year, and they went out and got one of the best players that this league has ever seen," James said. "They did a great job, their front office and their players, by doing that recruiting, the things that they did in the summertime, and obviously it paid dividends."
James had a spectacular series, averaging 33.6 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists but it wasn't enough. When it was over, James went straight to congratulate Durant, who got revenge for losing the title with Oklahoma City to James' Miami Heat five years ago.
"Some people would say that he's on the toe of - like he's on the line of greatness," Irving said. "But that guy is way over. Man, he's freaking awesome."
Cleveland got off to a fast start and built a 41-33 lead on a dunk by James early in the second quarter. Durant appeared to commit his third foul on the play, but the officials let it go and the game quickly turned.
The Warriors responded with a 28-4 run for a lead they never gave up after that. The Cavs offense stagnated during that stretch as Cleveland missed 9 of 11 shots from the field, turned the ball over three times and had two missed free throws from Kevin Love.
"You can't turn the basketball over, you can't take bad shots because you don't have floor balance," coach Tyronn Lue said. "They're so fast, they get out in transition. It's tough to get back and get matched, especially with their speed."
The game-changing spurt ended with a scuffle when Golden State's David West shoved Irving as he tried to grab the ball away. Thompson and Smith confronted West and all three of those players got technical fouls.
James hit a 3-pointer on the next possession and the Cavs didn't go away, cutting a 17-point deficit to three in the opening minute of the fourth quarter with help from Smith's 25 points.
But unlike last year's comeback when they took advantage of Harrison Barnes' offensive struggles, Durant answered every charge during a 39-point night and Cleveland will need to find new answers if these teams meet in a fourth straight Finals next season.
"Teams and franchises are going to be trying to figure out ways that they can put personnel together, the right group of guys together to be able to hopefully compete against this team," James said. "They're assembled as good as you can assemble, and I played against some really, really good teams that was assembled perfectly, and they're right up there."
Durant planned for this title months ago in picking Warriors
They made their group plea to Kevin Durant last summer, Stephen Curry and the core of the Golden State Warriors traveling cross-country to go at a prized free agent the only way they do it around here: with "Strength in Numbers."
Durant didn't really need a hard sell that day in the Hamptons. He chose Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and a chance at his first championship over returning to Oklahoma City. Scorned and scrutinized from every angle for that decision, Durant triumphantly raised his arms and an MVP trophy Monday night all these months later- beaming as a first-time NBA champion, just as planned.
He hugged mother Wanda many a time. And Curry, too. Even LeBron James, celebrating the fight and brilliance they each demonstrated during an entertaining back-and-forth basketball show in this Finals trilogy. Golden State in 2015, the Cavaliers last year, the Warriors again this time.
"I hear all the narratives throughout the season that I was joining, I was hopping on bandwagons, I was letting everybody else do the work," Durant said. "But then that was far from the truth. I came in and tried to help my team. Like I said, tried to be myself, be aggressive and sacrifice as well."
For all that chatter about chemistry on a super-team - some called them "supervillains" - how there might not be enough shots for all the big-time scorers, the Warriors kept winning as the world watched the every move of the East Bay franchise under the microscope.
Durant and Curry were always right in the middle, yet they stayed loose and focused by building their own relationship - not to mention shooting skills - through regular shooting contests that were oh so close.
"The way that he embraced the opportunity in the Finals, it was unbelievable," Curry said. "It's kind of crazy to think about the conversations we had this summer and going into the year about how we can both mesh and do what we do and be the players that we are and (to) see it come to life in this series, it was unbelievable."
Durant, an eight-time All-Star who only needed a ring to cement his superstar status, scored 39 points in a championship-clinching 129-120 victory and averaged 35.2 points and 8.4 rebounds in these Finals.
"I'm just happy for him. He's had an amazing career, but he just took it to the next level," coach Steve Kerr said. "He was incredible all season long. He had an amazing series, just dominated. Everybody for the last 10 years knew how good he was, but until you break through and win that first championship, there's always still something there. I'm just so happy Kevin has broken through. And there's more to come from him."
Durant came back late in the regular season from a 19-game absence with a left knee injury, then dealt with a tender calf early in the playoffs. Still, he insisted he had another notch to raise his game, and he certainly found it. He dramatically drove and dunked on Cleveland's defense, knocked down big 3-pointers and blocked shots while handling the load of defending King James.
Ten years after becoming the No. 2 draft pick behind Greg Oden, Durant has reached the pinnacle. Whenever he is asked about his own accomplishments, he is always quick to offer a reminder just as he did with a new NBA champions hat on his head: "It's a team sport." He can't do it alone.
"I can't believe it, but I have to," Durant said recently of where he is after a decade. "I'm really proud where I am right now as a player and being as consistent every year as I've been. That's something I talked about coming into the league, wanting to do it year in and year out. I've been able to accomplish that individually. But this is not an individual sport. So I've also realized that as far as becoming more of a team player, since my first year I've grown so much and I'm proud of myself in that area as well, but I've got a long ways to go."
This is a major start. For those guys in the Hamptons recruiting Durant that day and all the others, they can't wait for more.
"We felt like Kevin could come in and help us and, like I said, make it all complete," Green said. "And he showed that. Finals MVP, 4-1, world champions. Doesn't get much better than that."