OAKLAND, Calif. -- After becoming the first championship team in the city of Cleveland in more than 50 years a season ago, the Cavaliers' title reign came to an end on Monday against a Golden State Warriors team unlike any squad in basketball history.
The Warriors finished off their nearly perfect 16-1 postseason with a 129-120 win over the Cavs in Game 5, clinching the best winning percentage in NBA playoff history.
LeBron James made history of his own, putting up 41 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in the series finale to bring his 2017 NBA Finals averages to 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists -- becoming the first player to average a triple-double in the championship round.
"If we don't win a championship, then the season was unsuccessful," Richard Jefferson had said at shootaround before the Cavs staved off a sweep in Game 4 in Cleveland.
James focused on how far the Cavs advanced, not the three wins that escaped them in the Finals.
"We weren't able to get over the hump and accomplish what we ultimately wanted to do," he said. "But it's no such thing as a failed season when you put in as much work as we have done individually and as a ball club since September."
Yet the loss to the Warriors drops James' career record in the Finals to 3-5 and drops Cleveland to 1-2 in its "Threematch" with Golden State. However, stamping the season with a blanket failure label does not encompass the Cavs' journey in 2016-17.
Before running into the buzz saw that is the Warriors, the Cavs rolled through the Eastern Conference playoffs, going 12-1 and putting up the best offensive efficiency in the history of the postseason through the first three rounds -- even besting the "Showtime" Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s.
James passed Michael Jordan for first place on the all-time playoff scoring list and also eclipsed Jordan for No. 3 on the all-time Finals scoring list.
Yet despite the Cavs' accomplishments, there was a decidedly disjointed feel to the season. From JR Smith's contract holdout and right-thumb surgery to Love's knee procedure to a roster that started the season without a backup point guard after the free-agency departure of Matthew Dellavedova and retirement of Mo Williams, things never truly clicked.
A 13-2 start out of the gates was marred by a three-game losing streak starting in late November, when James announced the "honeymoon stage is over" for the Cavs. Still, they righted themselves in December and beat the Warriors on Christmas Day in a thrilling 14-point, fourth-quarter comeback and went into the new year at 25-7. Of course, that was before things were clicking for Golden State, as Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry were still feeling each other out. A losing January followed (7-8), in the midst of which James called the Cavs a "top-heavy" roster and pleaded for more playmakers to be added.
January also saw the Cavs lose in Golden State by 35. It was an abomination of an effort for Cleveland, as it shot just 35.5 percent from the field, while the Warriors hit 50.5 percent of their shots.
Cleveland's preseason Halloween party, which featured tombstone decorations mocking the Warriors' blown 3-1 lead and even a dummy dressed like Curry placed on the floor of the haunted house that guests had to walk over to enter the festivities, became a distant memory. The only thing scary at that point was the Warriors' starting to reach their potential, with Durant, Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green playing in harmony.
February was better, as the Cavs went 9-2, including a thrilling 140-135 overtime win at Washington with a memorable banked-in buzzer-beater by James that forced overtime. A terrible March saw the Cavs go 7-10 and repeatedly look tired and uninspired on defense. Then they closed the season on a four-game losing streak in April -- punctuated by blowing a 26-point fourth-quarter lead in Atlanta -- to lose the East's No. 1 seed to Boston.
The playoff run through the East -- a notable 26-point comeback of their own against Indiana in the first round; a brilliant closeout game by Irving in Toronto to end the second round; and James and Irving taking turns dominating Boston in the conference finals -- erased most of those regular-season questions.
Yet a sense of uneasiness with this group still existed underneath the surface, perhaps an inevitable helplessness created when Durant chose the Dubs. James addressed the unease after the Cavaliers closed out the Celtics in Game 5 of the East finals.
"I'm going to be honest, I'm not in the right mind to even talk about Golden State," James said. "It's too stressful, and I'm not stressed right now."
The plight of Cleveland's backup center position seemed to sum up the season's worth of disappointment quite well:
Chris "Birdman" Andersen was added in the summertime because of his ties to James in Miami and championship experience. Andersen suffered a season-ending ACL tear in December.
Then the Cavs signed Andrew Bogut -- another big man with a championship résumé, who also had potential insider Warriors knowledge -- after Philadelphia waived him in March. He played just 58 seconds in his Cavs debut before breaking his leg.
Next up was Larry Sanders, the former defensive dynamo with Milwaukee who took a 27-month hiatus from the NBA. He didn't even last 27 days with the team before being waived.
Finally, as a last-ditch effort, the Cavs signed 7-foot-3 center Edy Tavares on the final day of the regular season. He broke his right hand in an organized scrimmage before practice in between playoff rounds, making the Cavs 0-for-4 with their backup bigs -- just slightly worse than their 2017 record against Golden State in the Finals.
The Cavs gave it a shot, but sometimes it's not your time.
There wasn't much more to say.
"A lot of guys cried because they wanted it bad," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue admitted after Game 5, adding that he broke down himself. "And that's all you can ask. If you give all your effort and all the fight and all the heart you got, it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to win, and that's what's tough about sports. I credit our guys. I thought they gave everything they had, and we fought, we competed and we never gave in, but they beat us."