An all-time classic NBA Finals was coming to a close with the title still very much up for grabs.
Finally, mercifully, Game 7 saw that balance on display over four consecutive quarters, as Klay Thompson's layup with 4:39 remaining tied the game at 89. The score stayed locked there for the next several minutes as a blend of nerves, fatigue and defensive gusto caused clank after clank.
LeBron James missed a jumper; Stephen Curry missed a long 3. James missed another jumper; Thompson missed a shot. James got blocked by Andre Iguodala in the paint; Iguodala missed a 3. Kevin Love missed a jump hook; Draymond Green had a 3 rattle in and out. Kyrie Irving was off on a close-range jumper.
Like two prizefighters punching air at the end of a fight, the 0-for-9 combined drought by both teams was excruciating to watch, as they tried to create separation between each other with a knockout blow but kept missing as the time ticked away.
Golden State appeared to find the crack in the Cavs it was searching for after Irving's miss. Iguodala grabbed the defensive rebound and streaked up the floor with the clock showing 1:54 remaining. Curry sprinted ahead on the left wing. When Iguodala passed half court, he found Curry with a chest pass and continued to run toward the hoop. Curry received the pass and immediately fed it right back, bouncing it off the floor in front of Iguodala so the swingman could catch it in stride.
Freeze the video from this moment and you'll see Iguodala at the right side of the foul line, J.R. Smith with two feet planted in the left side of the lane -- albeit with his body facing Curry -- and James standing on the 3-point line on the left wing.
What happened in the next two seconds defined the game. As Iguodala took two steps as he powered toward the hoop before going airborne, James sized him up and sprung at Iguodala's shot attempt from behind, blocking the potential layup off the glass with 1:50 remaining.
Had James not made the chase-down block, Golden State would have had the lead -- and a raucous home crowd -- on its side in the game's final moments. Instead, The Block set up The Three by Kyrie Irving less than a minute later and, ultimately, the championship for Cleveland shortly thereafter.
This is the story of The Block, told by the principal parties involved.
Mike Breen, ESPN/ABC broadcaster: "It meant so much to both teams. For Golden State, to cement this magical season. The title, as much as they love the 73 wins and as much as it's an incredible accomplishment, they stated all season long that their only real goal is to win the title. So, it was something that meant everything to them. And then the Cleveland [side], it's impossible to explain or fully understand what that meant to that city and to the fans of that team after going for so long with never winning a championship for them and obviously the 52-year drought. So, the stakes were so high for both, and that's what made it such a great Game 7 setup. And in terms of what to expect, as we knew from the previous six games, it was completely impossible to predict it. It was one of the most unpredictable series that I've ever done, and to have the stakes that high made it as good of an anticipation going into a game as I can ever remember."
Joe Murphy, NBA Entertainment photographer: "LeBron is definitely one of my favorite athletes to photograph. Between his athletic ability and drive to win, I know I'm always going to have some amazing images after the game."
Mike Mancias, LeBron James' trainer: "It was a culmination of 13 years of early mornings, late nights, summertime workouts and countless hours of extra treatment sessions in his home. He really did this for Ohio. Seriously!"
"I don't know man, I don't know how I got there, but I'm grateful that I did." LeBron James
All the anticipation proved to be warranted as Game 7 neared its conclusion, with Iguodala's rebound off Irving's miss sparking the frantic final sequence that ultimately led to the Cavs' lifting the Larry O'Brien Trophy as world champs.
Stephen Curry, Warriors guard: "I didn't see him until the end. I was focused on trying to get the ball to [Iguodala] at the right time, and he's very crafty around the rim. LeBron made a great play on the ball, chase-down block. He just made a great play. That's pretty much all you can say."
LeBron James, Cavaliers forward: "Iguodala is a bad m-----f----- I had to go chase it down."
Breen: "I remember it was tied, and at that particular time, every particular possession, every particular pass is obviously paramount. I mean, the game is going to be decided probably by one play on a positive end for one team and one play on a negative end for another. So, you know that every play down the stretch the last couple of minutes can decide a championship, and he had such a good bead on it when Curry fed him the pass, it -- from my vantage point -- you're going, 'OK, this is an easy two points, they're going up two.' That was my thought: They're going to go up two here because he had that path.
"Even though J.R. Smith was there, the 2-on-1 between the two of them, how many times all season long have we seen the Warriors execute a play like that? So, that was the thought as he's going up: 'OK, Golden State is going to go up by two here.'"
Breen: "And then it seemed like [LeBron] came out of nowhere. Because there was a defender there already, and he not only had to go block the shot, but in some ways he had to maneuver around J.R. Smith to make the block. And it seemed like it was an impossible block to make without committing a goaltend. That's the other thing. Because it was just ... I had such shock in the play, because again, it seemed like he came out of nowhere, that I wanted to see the replay to see, Did he really block the shot before it hit the backboard? Did he really pull it off without committing goaltending?"
Brandon Weems, Cleveland Cavaliers scout: "I wanted to see the replay. They don't show replays here [at Oracle Arena]! I was waiting for the replay, man."
Steve Javie, former NBA referee: "My first thing, now being out of officiating for five years and being in the replay center, I wanted to rewind it to make sure that it was legal. That's the first thing. Because I knew it was so close to being to the backboard, I wanted to see if he took it to the backboard or he took it off the backboard. So that was the first thing that I wanted to observe, and when I did observe it, then I just went like, 'Wow.' Just an incredible play because he did, even for people who are watching on TV, he came out of nowhere."
James (to Cleveland.com): "I was like, just don't give up on the play. Just don't give up on the play. Kyrie made a move into the lane, missed it, it shot long, and Iguodala, one of the best guys we have in the open court, gets the rebound, pushes it to Steph, and I was just like, do not give up on the play. If you got an opportunity, just try to make this play. I was also thinking like, 'J.R., please don't foul him. I know I'm right there, I can get it, I can get it.' I was like, 'J.R., don't foul him, and Bron, get the ball before it hit the backboard.' And we did that.
James: "I went up with both hands in case he went with the reverse or the same-side layup. I don't know man, I don't know how I got there, but I'm grateful that I did."
"It's just another example of how he's just not going to let them lose. That was the thought as well after he blocked the shot: This guy is just not going to let this team lose tonight." ESPN's Mike Breen
It was the Cavs' 110th game since the start of training camp, adding up preseason, regular-season and postseason contests, and James was playing in the 45th minute of the 47 he would log in Game 7 when he made The Block.
Mancias: "He just rallied. His reserve tank was low, and he just dug deep to find that last bit of energy to finish. He took their heart with that block, and he knew he would."
John Brenkus, ESPN Sport Science: "When Andre Iguodala accepts the pass, he's still 7 feet closer than LeBron to their eventual meeting point [at the rim]. LeBron is able to make up the gap with a top speed of just over 20 mph and with help from J.R. Smith's defense, which delays the release by an estimated fifteen-hundredths of a second. At liftoff, LeBron raises his center of mass by 35 inches to get his hand 11 feet, 5 inches off the ground and block the ball in a window of opportunity that lasts just two-tenths of a second."
Murphy: "[Through my camera] you really only see the player with the ball. You need to keep your other eye open to see the rest of the court. Steph Curry made a bounce pass to A.I., and [he] took a few dribbles. I could see he was going in for a layup or dunk. As he elevated towards the rim, I suddenly see LeBron appear in my viewfinder. When Steph made the pass, all I could see was J.R. Smith, so thought it would be a normal 2-on-1 easy bucket. [LeBron] had to be moving fast to catch up to A.I. that quickly.
"When I saw him appear in frame to contest the shot, I kept shooting and couldn't believe how high he was when he finally slammed the ball against the backboard!"
It was James' ninth block in the last three games of the Finals -- all wins for the Cavs. Through the first three rounds of the playoffs, he had 11 blocks. In the Finals alone, he had 16 blocks against the Warriors.
Andre Iguodala, Warriors forward: "He's been doing that all series. He's made some great plays for their team. What he's done for them and tried to help build there finally came to fruition. They won a championship, and give those guys a lot of credit."
Breen, known for his signature "Bang!" calls on 3-pointers, described the play like so: "Iguodala to Curry, back to Iguodala, up for the layup! Oh! Blocked by James! LeBron James with the rejection!"
Breen: "I always feel the most exciting play in a game is a blocked shot like that. I know the 3-pointer is great or a pass inside and the slam dunk is wonderful, but I think to call, there's nothing more exciting to call than a blocked shot. Especially when it is out of nowhere: It looks like it's an easy 2, the team is going to score and suddenly this magnificent defensive play erupts. And for me, it's as fun a play to call as any because of that element of surprise where, 'Wow, he just stopped what should have been an easy 2 points.' And for him to do it in that situation when he had a couple of signature blocks already in the series, it's just another example of how he's just not going to let them lose. That was the thought as well after he blocked the shot: This guy is just not going to let this team lose tonight."
Play continued after The Block. Smith corralled the ball, and the Cavs pushed it up the court. Several members of the Warriors signaled for a goaltending call that never came.
Javie: "I think replay review is excellent because of the fact that it helps you. It's a tool to get plays right. There's no doubt about it. Believe me, as you well know, every player who takes a shot wants to make a shot. Every referee who blows the whistle wants to make a right call. So, when there's a tool to help you, it's great to have at your disposal so you can use it. Now, in this situation, the only way they could have used replay review is if they blew the whistle and called it a goaltend because by rule, in order to use replay review on a goaltending or basket interference, you must blow the whistle and call it either goaltending or basket interference. By not blowing the whistle, they couldn't go back to review it."
If there was one iconic image from Game 7, it was probably James holding up the championship trophy with tears in his eyes afterward. But in terms of actual game action, the sight of James pinning Iguodala's shot against the glass will always conjure up the rush of watching that play.
Murphy: "I knew I fired the camera through the entire sequence and my framing was on, but couldn't check the image until after the break in action to make sure the focus was on, and if I actually caught the ball against the backboard. When I scrolled through the sequence and saw the image where his hand had the ball pinned, I zoomed in to check the focus and knew it was a nice frame. Game wasn't over yet, so I kind of just smiled to myself and went back to capture the final moments."
The Cavs finally broke the 89-89 tie when Irving pulled up for a 3 over Curry with 53 seconds left to put Cleveland up 92-89. James pumped both fists in celebration. All the Cavs would have to do was hold the lead for less than a minute and their city's 52-year championship drought would be over.
Irving: "I've been watching The Block more than anything because there's no Shot without The Block. You see a guy chasing down a shot like that, and then I get a chance on the biggest stage, Game 7, man. I wouldn't trade it for the world. I wouldn't trade the world for it."