NBA Finals: How one huge no-call changed Game 5 and crushed the Cavs' comeback chances
The NBA Finals are over.
The Warriors cemented themselves as arguably the greatest team ever with a 129-120 win against the Cavaliers on Monday night in Oakland, Calif. Now, for hoops heads (especially Cleveland fans), all that's left to do is pontificate and ponder the possibilities of what would've, could've and, maybe, should've been.
Kevin Durant's pull-up 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of LeBron James was the turning point in the series in that it put the Cavs on their heels, forcing them to face what wound up being an unconquerable three-game deficit. But a no-call on a clear foul by Durant on a James' dunk in the second quarter Monday also provided a pivotal point, one that ultimately doomed the Cavs' chances of extending the series another game.
James threw down a thunderous off an assist from backup point guard Deron Williams to put the Cavaliers up 41-33 with 10:14 left before halftime. Durant, who was defending in transition, clearly smacked James upside the head as he contested the attempt at the rim before the four-time MVP powered through for the ferocious finish.
It was the same kind of incidental contact Cavs forward Kevin Love was whistled for a flagrant foul after Durant complained to refs in Game 3.
Former coach and color commentator Jeff Van Gundy posed an interesting question during the ABC's live broadcast after referees viewed the footage and decided to assess the flagrant foul.
"They called this a flagrant foul," Van Gundy said. "I wonder, and I really don't. If Love had gotten hit by Durant the same way and hadn't complained, which Durant did, he made them go over and look at it, would it have been a flagrant foul? And I know it wouldn't be."
Monday, his take was proven correct. Apparently, it wouldn't have even been a personal foul. James, the highest-profile player in the league, complained as well and didn't get the same consideration.
After the no-call on LeBron's dunk, Durant remained in the game. Golden State outscored Cleveland 36-11 over the next 9:05 of game time, a stretch in which Durant scored 13 of his team-high 39 points and added three rebounds, an assist and a steal.
The Warriors have enough firepower to put together a similar run with Durant on the bench. They a won a title in 2014-2015 and a league-best 73 regular-season games in 2015-16 while leading the NBA in scoring both seasons prior to his arrival. However, the Cavs would've almost certainly had a better shot at stretching their lead and putting that much more pressure on the Warriors to avoid enduring two more days of potentially embarrassing 3-1 jokes and having to head back to Cleveland for Game 6.
Instead, the Cavaliers never got closer than four, and the Warriors went on to clinch the championship on their home floor for the first time in franchise history, leaving the rest of the league to wonder if anyone will be able to come close to competing with them for the immediate future.