OAKLAND, Calif. -- As if there weren't enough history made and history denied, the Cleveland Cavaliers' dramatic Game 7 championship victory is ripe for history of the revisionist kind.
As in: Is the five-decade Cleveland championship drought over because of Draymond Green's swipe at LeBron James' groin?
Or maybe: If Kyrie Irving had not been injured in last year's Finals, would the Cavaliers be back-to-back champions right now, with Stephen Curry & Co. still seeking their first banner?
Irving made the series-deciding shot to break the 11th tie and provide the 20th and final lead change of Game 7 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night. As the teams staggered to the finish, with tension and fatigue leaving shot after shot short, Irving ended a scoreless spell of more than three and a half minutes when he sized up Curry and fired over him a 3-pointer that dropped with 53 seconds remaining.
Curry couldn't provide an answer. He and Klay Thompson struggled both to keep pace with Irving on offense and to stay in front of him on defense throughout most of the series. Irving outscored Curry in four of the seven games (and had 34 points the night Curry scored 38 in Game 4). He matched James' 41 points in the pivotal Game 5, when the dual-star performance turned the Finals around after the Cavaliers had fallen behind 3-1.
Irving averaged 27 points, four rebounds and four assists in the series. It wasn't the 30-11-9 produced nightly by Finals MVP LeBron James, but there wouldn't be the celebration in Cleveland, the cathartic outpouring of tears from J.R. Smith on the podium or the jubilation of first-year head coach Tyronn Lue without Irving.
Lue called Irving's 3-pointer "one of the biggest shots in NBA history."
Irving might have been the least emotional of the group. He said he was still so tightly wound immediately after the game that he wondered if he'd have to face the Warriors in yet another game. It wasn't until he was asked about the journey from last year to this year, from walking out of Oracle Arena on crutches after breaking a bone in his knee in Game 1 of the 2015 Finals to hitting the shot for the ages, that his eyes got a little misty.
"I tried to downplay it the whole entire season of the emotional kind of stress that I was putting on myself from getting hurt, not being here with my teammates," he said.
At the end of a season that for him didn't begin until December came the reward: "I'm just really thankful to be a part of history like this and it to be done with the group that I have in that locker room and us making history and etching our names forever in NBA history."
The Cavaliers became the first team to rally from a 3-1 series deficit to win the NBA Finals. They did so against a team that had won a record number of games and hadn't lost three consecutive at any point in the past two seasons. The Cavaliers are only the third team to win an NBA Finals Game 7 on the road.
Given Irving's play in this series and the way LeBron played the past two series, he could be excused for wondering if his presence for the entirety of last year's Finals would've made the Cavaliers back-to-back champs at the moment.
"Let's not move too fast," Irving cautioned.
No one bothered to hit the brakes on the rush to hang this series loss on Green, who received a flagrant foul for the Game 4 incident with James, which put him over the threshold for suspension for flagrant fouls accumulated during the playoffs. This despite Green's doing everything he could to give the Warriors a chance in Game 7, including uncorking a LeBron-like 32 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists. To Green, it wasn't sufficient redemption -- not in a loss.
"They're going to remember LeBron's game. They're going to remember Kyrie's game," Green said. "They're not going to remember mine."
As for his absence in Game 5: "I'm not afraid to take the blame. I do think that's where the series turned. But it happened."
He said he wouldn't spend the summer asking himself "What if?"
Each and every Warrior can do that. There are more than enough regretful moments to go around. The 18 missed 3-pointers by the Splash Brothers. Harrison Barnes' slump over the last three games, in which he shot 5-for-32. The failure of the Warriors' big men to produce after Andrew Bogut went down with a knee injury in Game 5; Festus Ezeli and Anderson Varejao had no field goals, no blocked shots and a combined one rebound in their 20 minutes on the court in Game 7.
The team that produced the most single-season victories the sport had ever seen couldn't get one more stop, one more basket, one more victory. It was an astonishing, agonizing finish to their record-setting season.
Klay Thompson struggled to process what had happened and what it all meant. He was asked if Irving was the difference between last year and this year, and he acknowledged, "He makes a huge difference."
It was evident. If you want to engage in a debate of whether Irving could have changed the outcome of last year's Finals, his performance right through his last shot in 2016 was evidence.
The season is over. The history is written.
Let the speculation continue.