CLEVELAND — As the final seconds ticked off and the Warriors began bouncing in celebration on their bench, Stephen Curry looked up and saw LeBron James coming at him.
James could do nothing more. He extended a conceding hand and congratulations.
Moments later, Curry was hoisting a trophy in the air — one as golden as his team.
Revived by Curry, their fresh-faced shooting superstar, and bonded by first-year coach Steve Kerr who made them believe, the Warriors ended a 40-year NBA championship drought on Tuesday night by finishing off James and the undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers 105-97 in Game 6.
Curry and Finals MVP Andre Iguodala scored 25 points apiece, Draymond Green recorded a triple-double and the Warriors, using a barrage of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to put Cleveland away, won their first title since 1975 when Gerald Ford was in the White House, disco was in vogue and Rick Barry was flicking in free throws under-handed.
And these Warriors are a lot like Barry and his old crew: fluid, balanced, together. Just like Steve Kerr hoped.
“I’m kind of speechless,” Curry said. “This is special. To be able to hold this trophy and all the hard work we’ve put into it this season, this is special. We’re definitely a great team and a team that should go down in history as one of the best teams from top to bottom.”
James, who fell to 2-4 in the finals, didn’t hide his dejection.
“Doesn’t matter if I’m playing in Miami or playing in Cleveland or playing on Mars,” he said. “You lose in the Finals, it’s disappointing.”
After the Warriors were presented with the glittering Larry O’Brien Trophy by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, hundreds of gold-and-blue clad Warriors fans inside Quicken Loans Arena serenaded the new champs by singing “War-eee-ers,” a cry that filled Oracle Arena all season and will greet the team on their return to California.
Golden State allowed the Cavs to creep within eight points in the fourth before unleashing a flurry of 3s to ensure there would be no Game 7. Curry’s step-back made it 78-68, and after the Cavs closed within seven on J.R. Smith’s trey, Iguodala, Curry and Klay Thompson each drained one in a span of 81 seconds to make it 89-75.
Iguodala, who had the added duty of guarding James, knocked down another long shot for good measure before he strutted back on defense holding out three fingers on each hand.
He could have shot an index finger into the air at that point — Golden State is No. 1.
“This has been a long ride,” Iguodala said. “It’s been a great season.”
While Golden State’s drought ended, Cleveland’s half-century of sports misery rolls on.
James returned from Miami last summer to deliver a title to his home region, but the 30-year-old superstar, left to do most of the work after All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were injured in the postseason, came two wins shy of giving Cleveland its first pro sports championship since 1964.
The city’s three pro teams — the Cavs, Browns and Indians — have gone a combined 144 seasons without one of them winning it all.
It’s not that James didn’t do everything possible. He finished with 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists and was dominant throughout the series, showing why he’s the world’s best player.
The Warriors were simply the better team.
“We ran out of talent,” said James, who sat facing his locker with a towel over his head for nearly an hour after the game. “We gave everything we had.”
This series, which opened with two overtime games in Oakland, flipped when Kerr employed a small lineup in the fourth quarter of Game 3 and the Warriors nearly overcame a 20-point deficit before losing.
Kerr stuck with revamped lineup in Game 4, giving Iguodala his first start this season, switching Green to center and benching the ineffective Andrew Bogut. The move was as golden as the Warriors, who finished with 83 wins, the third-highest single-season total in history.
Only the 1995-96 and 1996-97 Bulls won more, and Kerr was on both of those teams.
The fact that Iguodala, their sixth man, took MVP honors perhaps sums up the Warriors best.
“I always said Andre’s a pro’s pro,” Green said. “He’s a professional guy and it showed, and that’s why he’s MVP of the series and that’s what we’re champions.”
Down early after missing open shots, the Warriors began finding their range. Golden State capitalized on nine turnovers in the first quarter, made four 3s and built a 13-point lead when Harrison Barnes knocked down a long 3 — a shot that sent those Warriors fans into a frenzy.
This was their night, the one they’ve waited for 40 years.
While Golden State had some solid teams in the past — the “Run TMC” version coached by Don Nelson and featuring Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond among them — the franchise has been undermined by dysfunction. Along with long playoff gaps, there were bad trades, poor drafts and numerous coaching changes.
The Warriors often made headlines for the wrong reasons. Remember when Latrell Sprewell choked coach P.J. Carlesimo?
Well, those days are gone, washed away by Curry and Thompson — the “Splash Brothers” — and a roster of selfless players who bonded under Kerr and have returned basketball glory to Oakland.
“I remember coming to Oracle as a player year after year playing against lousy teams,” Kerr said. “I could not be happier for our fan base.”
These new Warriors have been a model team: sharing the ball, defending together and sacrificing individual goals.
“Strength in Numbers” was their motto as the Warriors used depth and balance to jump from 51 wins to a franchise-record 67 during the regular season.
Kerr molded them. Hired last summer after spurning an offer from the Knicks, the 49-year-old former NBA guard who won three of his five titles as Michael Jordan’s teammate in Chicago and two playing for Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, Kerr brought out the best in his team.
From the first day of training camp, he emphasized unity. A California-born kid who still surfs and would prefer to wear jeans and a pair of Vans on the sideline, he kept things loose by taking the Warriors bowling and letting them blare music during practices.
With Curry, the team’s first MVP since Wilt Chamberlain, leading them, the Warriors outgunned everyone in the rugged Western Conference and entered the postseason as a No. 1 seed. They swept New Orleans, rallied from a 2-1 deficit to beat Memphis and then blew through Houston in five games to make the finals for the first time since `75.
They then held off James and the Cavs, who just didn’t have enough.