Five things we learned during NBA Finals

You’re rarely going to get 100 percent clearance on anything. The NBA would have to hand select and hermetically seal its fan base, and even then the occasional rodent hair or pest dropping would sneak in. But by and large, there is no longer any basis for people to nitpick at LeBron James as one of the league’s all-time great players, who is motivated by and largely manages to do the right things.

James has played in seven NBA Finals (including six in a row) and won three of them. With the Game 7 victory Sunday night, he completed his most stunning masterwork yet, beating an opponent with the all-time best regular-season record, clawing back from a 3-1 deficit that no Finals participant ever had survived and winning the clincher on the road. He and the Cavaliers ended Cleveland’s drought of 52 years and 146 sports-team seasons without a title, dating all the way back to the Browns’ NFL success in 1964.

James dragged the Cavs all the way back in the final three games with 41 points, 41 points and a triple-double, and made a defensive play — his chase-down block of Andre Iguodala in the closing minutes with the score tied — that ranks with his or any of his teammates’ scoring highlights.

Bottom line, James did what he set out to do when he returned to Cleveland 23 months ago, and if this Finals didn’t make it up to the folks still cranky about “The Decision” in July 2010, there is no satisfying those folks. What were they so unhappy about when James left, if not for the lost opportunity to experience … precisely what he delivered Sunday? And they’re kidding themselves to think he simply could have stayed and won those two Miami titles right there in The Land.

The Cavs franchise wasn’t ready to do that, his teammates at the time weren’t ready for it and frankly, neither was James. He finally spoke long after the final horn Sunday, revealing to ESPN that his secret motivation when he hit the 2015 Finals came from the way his departure from Miami was received.

“When I decided to leave Miami — I’m not going to name any names, I can’t do that — but there were some people that I trusted and built relationships with in those four years [who] told me I was making the biggest mistake of my career,” James told the Web site. “And that [expletive] hurt me. … That right there was my motivation.”

If the outcome of this championship series was 51 percent due to Cleveland winning it, the other 49 percent belonged to Golden State for losing it. Steve Kerr, Steph Curry & Co. looked unexpectedly fallible over the final five games, starting with their somnambulant walk through Quicken Loans Arena in Game 3 to the blasé attitude they exhibited in Game 5 and Game 6, up to and including flashes of ho-hummery in Game 7.

The Warriors kept waiting for their A game to return, talking about the lack of rhythm with which they were playing offensively, the absence of crisp ball movement — without ever really crediting the Cavaliers for disrupting all that regular-season purring. Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and others were maddeningly casual with the basketball at a time in the NBA schedule when even grade schools kids can parrot the “every possession is valuable” standard.

Actually, most of the time, that June holiday dedicated to Dad synchs up nicely with The Finals. Last year and this, of course, there was the Dell Curry and Mychael Thompson connection with Steph and Klay, respectively. Kevin Love’s dad Stan played in the NBA and ABA as well. There were expressions and demonstration of fatherly love, and offspring to pop, throughout both locker rooms. James toted his three children to the postgame podium in what has become NBA ritual for champions, enabling them to win both the games and the news conferences.

But J.R. Smith’s poignant, choked-up couple of minutes when trying to explain the impact his father and other family members have had on his career was something to behold. A guy known for much of his career as a knucklehead, a high-maintenance, high-wire act for teams that covet his long-distance shooting, stripped all that away when he gulped and cried his way through all the genuine emotion.

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