Four years have passed since the classic 2016 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, a championship series featuring huge names such as LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson that culminated with a thrilling Game 7 that was littered with unforgettable plays and sequences.
Well, with basketball on hiatus – for the time being, at least – we decided to go back and rewatch that exciting contest. While doing so, we noticed a lot of little but important moments, some of which were legitimate game-changers.
Below, 28 things you may not remember about that legendary Cavs-Warriors Game 7 from the 2016 Finals.
Emotions were running high going into Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals
Ayesha Curry, Stephen’s wife, said the NBA was “absolutely rigged” after her husband fouled out in Game 6. Steve Kerr ripped the officiating, too.
Then there was also the whole LeBron/Draymond Green stuff from Game 4 that got Green suspended for Game 5.
All in all, this series was quite heated, leading to a very intense Game 7 atmosphere from the opening tip.
There were questions about Andre Iguodala’s condition before Game 7
You have to wonder if LeBron blocks that infamous layup attempt if Andre Iguodala is in tip-top shape instead of having back problems.
Lest we forget, Iguodala was still merely 33 in that series, with enough athleticism left in the tank to get up quicker than he did on that play. Maybe his ailing back really did play a bigger factor in his poor performance that night than we remember.
For what it’s worth, over the first five games of the 2016 Finals, Iguodala averaged 11.0 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists on 48.9 percent shooting. In Games 6 and 7, however, when Iguodala’s back problems arose, the swingman’s averages fell to 4.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting 4-for-11 from the floor.
Cleveland lacked Game 7 experience
Out of the Cavs starting five, only LeBron had any experience in a Game 7 before the start of the contest.
It wasn’t the first Game 7 for any Warrior starter, though.
Interestingly enough, however, as the game played out, it seemed like the Cavaliers were the more experienced team while the Warriors were the ones who looked a bit caught up in the intensity of the moment.
Festus Ezeli had his only start of the playoffs in that game
… And it turned out to likely be the last game of his professional career.
Injuries played a part in that, but Ezeli wouldn’t exactly go on to cover himself in glory that night.
In fairness, Ezeli was better-suited to be a backup, but a series-ending injury to Andrew Bogut in Game 5 forced Kerr’s hand in starting Ezeli.
Curry and Thompson had a rough start to the contest
The first couple of threes attempted by the Splash Brothers didn’t even touch the rim.
That would go on to be a theme for the evening, as both star guards struggled mightily with their shooting.
All Cavs starters scored one bucket each in the first six minutes of the game
Early on, there was very little pressure for LeBron with Irving handling most of the playmaking duties.
Cleveland’s role players stepping up would also go on to be a theme that night. Guys like Tristan Thompson and JR Smith didn’t get a ton of opportunities, but they more than took advantage of the chances they did get to contribute.
LeBron James had three turnovers in the first seven minutes of the game
However, he would only lose the ball twice the rest of the night.
Slightly shaky start for LeBron, but once he settled down, his playmaking was magnificent.
Kevin Love stepped up early
In Games 5 and 6, Love – who had just returned after missing Game 3 due to a concussion – was clearly hampered by the injury he suffered in Game 2.
As such, the All-Star big man scored just nine total points in those two contests, shooting 2-for-8 from the floor in that span.
Nevertheless, Love stepped up in the early portion of Game 7, scoring five points in the first quarter, and though the floor-spacing big man would finish the game with just nine points total, his early scoring was important to get Cleveland settled into the game.
LeBron got into a scuffle early on with an old friend
No, it wasn’t LeBron and Green this time, but rather LeBron and his old pick-and-roll partner Anderson Varejao who got into a very minor tussle towards the end of the first quarter.
Varejao hit James on the shoulder on a drive attempt, LeBron bumps into him on his way towards the foul stripe, there’s a small shove between the two parties, Harrison Barnes played peacemaker and both sides moved on quickly.
Cleveland missed their first eight three-point attempts
Their first make from deep came courtesy of Iman Shumpert, who knocked down a triple while being fouled by Shaun Livingston – the first four-point play of Shumpert’s career.
Overall, the Cavs shot the ball quite poorly on the evening in general, making just six (out of 25) three-pointers on the night. Shumpert’s was one of them, and the only one Cleveland would hit in the first half out of 14 chances. Golden State, on the other hand, made 10 threes out of 21 opportunities in the first half.
It’s sort of shocking the Cavs were only down 49-42 at halftime.
Curry capped a poor first half with his third foul
The Warriors didn’t love the whistle Curry received from the officials on either end of the floor all series long, and that trend continued in Game 7, with Curry – who had fouled out of Game 6 just nights before – being forced to sit for the final 1:09 of the first half after picking up his third foul.
It was a weird foul call, too, with the contact coming off the ball, Curry crouching in guarding position and Shumpert crashing into him. You don’t see that type of contact being called a foul on superstars all that often.
Regardless, Curry capped a quiet nine-point, 3-for-8 shooting first half by picking up his third foul just before halftime.
Horrific accident took place in the stands
A Warriors fan fell 50 feet in the arena that night, surviving the fall and claiming that it was a Cavs fan who pushed him.
The intensity was all over the building that evening.
More Ezeli, more problems for Golden State
After sitting for most of the first half, Ezeli started the second half and had a pretty forgettable stretch of plays to start off the third period.
In a four-possession span, Ezeli missed a layup, got scored on after a switch by JR Smith, fouled Love on a rebound and then got scored on by Thompson, pulling Cleveland within three just like that after trailing by seven at the half.
Kerr and Co. were undoubtedly missing Andrew Bogut badly at that point.
More officiating complaints for the Warriors
At one point in the third quarter, the Cavs had a free throw disparity of 20 to nine, and that was after all the complaining Golden State had done in the media about what they felt was one-sided officiating throughout the series.
The final free throw disparity for the game was 25 to 13 in favor of Cleveland.
It somewhat makes sense, as the Cavs played a more physical game in comparison to the Warriors’ finesse, outside shooting-driven style of attack, but a home team getting outshot from the foul stripe in a Game 7 by a nearly two-to-one ratio is a bit surprising.
Andre Iguodala missed two big free throws in the fourth quarter
With 7:40 left in the fourth quarter, Iguodala was fouled by Richard Jefferson on a transition opportunity, one that might have been an easy layup for Iguodala had his back not been ailing him.
Iguodala, who shot 56.1 percent from the foul line those playoffs, missed both free throws to keep the Warriors down by one. With points at such a premium in this hard-fought, defensive slugfest of a contest, missing out on two free points from the foul stripe would come back to haunt Golden State later in the game.
A potentially big run for Golden State was stifled by a 6-0 LeBron run
With roughly five-and-a-half minutes left in the game, the Warriors went on a 7-0 run to go up 87-83. It felt like the time had arrived for one of those patented Golden State runs, the kind that had become so common during their championship days where they’d take a close game late in the fourth quarter and blow it wide open in a moment’s notice thanks to their explosive scoring prowess.
Momentum had completely shifted in the contest, the crowd was absolutely electric, and it seemed like a knockout punch was coming for the Warriors.
However, that didn’t wind up happening, and the Cavs deserve a ton of credit for their resiliency at that moment. LeBron drew a foul on a three-point attempt on Ezeli, who was somewhat inexplicably in the game at that point despite how poorly he had played before that, and made all three free throws, quieting the crowd and getting Cleveland back within one possession.
One has to wonder if Kerr regrets having Ezeli in the game at that point, with under six minutes remaining in the most important outing of the season. That probably should have been Death Lineup time for Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Iguodala and Green.
Even worse, immediately after the three LeBron free throws, with 5:16 remaining in the game, Curry throws way too nonchalant of a behind-the-back pass to Thompson, missing the mark completely and turning it over.
LeBron followed that up by drawing another switch on Ezeli and drilling a three in his face.
Crowd stunned. Lead turned into a deficit. Golden State on the ropes.
Iguodala missed a three that could have changed the outcome
With three minutes remaining and the game getting tight, LeBron drove it in on Curry and got a good look at the rim, only to be blocked (some would potentially say fouled on the hand, though no call was made) by Iguodala.
Immediately afterward on the other end of the floor in semi-transition, Iguodala got a great look for a corner three – and missed it.
Had Iguodala hit that shot, one could argue that it could have been a game-changing moment for Golden State, one that would be remembered quite fondly: a block at the rim on one of the greatest players ever and a huge three to open up the basket for the Warriors, who hadn’t scored in minutes.
Who knows? If that shot goes in, maybe LeBron’s eventual chase-down block on Iguodala isn’t as impactful, or maybe it doesn’t even happen at all.
Either way, that was an enormous miss by Iguodala.
Setting the stage for the LeBron block
Prior to LeBron’s iconic block on Iguodala, both teams were had been scoreless for nearly three full minutes with the score stuck at 89-89. From 4:40 remaining until the block at around 1:50 left in the fourth quarter, neither team could buy a single point, and just when it looked like Iguodala was going to open the scoring back up, there came LeBron out of nowhere to pick up arguably the biggest block in NBA history.
Immediately preceding the block, Irving had tried to go one-on-one against Curry and forced a tough layup attempt in heavy traffic, one that missed the rim entirely and was caught by Iguodala on the rebound. After the block, LeBron tried to attack Iguodala on a post-up and missed on his own floater attempt.
The first points in nearly four minutes were from Irving’s historic shot
It took until there were 53 seconds left in the game for either team to finally score, and it was Cleveland who would do so on Irving’s unforgettable side-step three-pointer on Curry to seal the game and the championship for the Cavs.
Golden State wouldn’t score again for the rest of the game, an absolutely shocking fact considering how high-powered their offense was.
A bad foul by Barnes shortened the clock for Golden State
With roughly 18 seconds left in the game and 11 left on the shot clock, Barnes fouls LeBron for some reason despite Golden State having a foul to give and a timeout left. That meant that the clock would reset to 14 seconds left on the shot clock, giving the Warriors even less time to try and force a miss and secure a rebound.
Kerr can be seen putting his hands up as if to tell Barnes not to foul there, but Barnes wasn’t looking in his direction. No one can visibly be seen telling Barnes to foul, either, so it’s likely he took that costly decision on his own.
A surprising player took the last shot of the series
It wasn’t LeBron, or Irving, or Curry, or Thompson or Green who took the last shot of the 2016 season.
It was bench big man Marreese Speights, who had hardly seen action to that point in the contest (though maybe he should have, considering the contributions of Ezeli and Varejao).
His shot was inconsequential, as he took a corner three with Golden State down by four and the clock about to hit zero, but still a fun fact.
Barack Obama delayed his exit from Air Force One to watch the game
Another fun fact completely inconsequential to the game: President Barack Obama delayed his exit from Air Force One to watch the end of the outing.
With how good the contest was, it’s hard to blame him.
That game had the highest ratings ever for an NBA game on ABC
With an average rating of 15.8, Game 7 of the 2016 Finals was the highest-rated NBA game ever shown on ABC.
On average, Game 7 had 31.02 million viewers, though that number would peak at 10:30 pm EST at an astonishing 44.5 million viewers.
What was happening at that point?
Well, at 10:29 pm EST, the LeBron block on Iguodala occurred, so people likely read about that on social media or heard about it via word of mouth and changed channels on their TV to witness the end of the contest. Irving’s game-winning three would take place at 10:32 pm EST.
A night to forget for the Splash Bros
For the contest, Curry and Thompson would combine to go 6-for-24 from three and 12-for-36 from the field overall. If either of them had gotten even remotely hot at any point in the game, the Warriors could have stolen a win.
They didn’t, though, and the rest is history.
The fourth quarter was particularly nightmarish for Curry, who hit his first shot of the period, a three with 6:56 left in the game and would go on to miss his last five shots, four of which were threes – and most of which were pretty good looks.
Draymond Green was easily Golden State’s best player that night
Green was by far the most efficient offensive player for the Warriors. Go figure. He was the only one to shoot better than 50 percent from the field and led the team in scoring with 32 points (22 of them in the first half). Curry was second with 17.
Green went 11-for-15 on the evening and hit 6-of-8 from three after not having hit a triple since Game 2 of the series.
LeBron was voted unanimous MVP
It was the pretty obvious choice, but still, it’s noteworthy that LeBron was unanimous MVP for the 2016 Finals after leading all players in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals – an absolutely ridiculous feat to accomplish.
It’s the only time that has ever happened in NBA history, with one player finishing a series as the leader in all five of those metrics.
That third title was well-earned by James.
Richard Jefferson announced his retirement after the game
Following the final buzzer, Jefferson said he was retiring and it was a “hell of a way to go out.”
That didn’t end up being true, though, as Jefferson went on to play two more seasons, one with Cleveland and one with the Denver Nuggets.
The Warriors were immediately ready for a huge free agency
After the game, Golden State’s owner Joe Lacob was asked what was next for the Warriors. “All I can say is I will be very aggressive,” he answered
Fifteen days later, the Warriors agreed to a deal with Kevin Durant.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.