CLEVELAND (United States) - With a first-year coach in Steve Kerr and a team lacking any player with National Basketball Association Finals experience, the Golden State Warriors began the season as unlikely title contenders.
But they ended the campaign as champions, capturing the club's first crown in 40 years with a 105-97 victory on Tuesday at Cleveland to defeat a LeBron James-led Cavaliers 4-2 in the best-of-seven series.
Golden State are the first team to win a title behind a roster without any previous Finals experience since the 1991 Chicago Bulls.
Every year is so different. A lot is based on match-ups and injuries and maybe a little good fortune. We had good fortune with our health most of the year and that was big.
- Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr
Kerr is also the first rookie coach to win an NBA title since the Los Angeles Lakers' Pat Riley in 1982.
"Every year is so different," Kerr said. "A lot is based on match-ups and injuries and maybe a little good fortune. We had good fortune with our health most of the year and that was big."
The championship series had plenty of sub-plots, including reigning league Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry up against two-time champion James, as well as it being a clash of franchises looking to end decades-long title droughts.
But the best-of-seven series was also one of inexperience versus experience and, in the pressure-cooker environment that is the NBA play-offs, the latter tends to prevail.
The Warriors, however, displayed the demeanour of a team who had competed on the game's biggest stage several times before, refusing to break en route to capturing the Oakland-based franchise's first NBA title since 1975.
"We've a lot of different personalities but the common denominator is guys were like really hungry to show what they can do individually," said NBA Finals' Most Valuable Player Andre Iguodala.
"When you get all those guys together and say we're going to do it together as a team, that's an awesome formula for what we put together tonight, and that is a championship."
After splitting the first two games of the championship series on their home court, the Warriors went to Cleveland and promptly fell behind in the series 1-2 as their usual potent offence lost its punch.
Kerr made a bold change to his line-up for Game Four when he gave Iguodala his first start of the season. The steely veteran led the way in a pivotal victory that reinvigorated the deadly run-and-gun offence that had defined the Warriors all season.
By comparison, the Cavaliers were an exhausted and banged-up team in the Finals but were led the whole way by James, one of the most polarising figures in NBA history.
Even he had to lose before he won, having fallen short in his first trip to the NBA Finals with Cleveland in 2007, when they lasted a minimum four games to a veteran San Antonio team.
James finally won a championship in 2012 after joining a Miami Heat team stocked with talent.
"For me, it's never a success if you go out losing but we put ourselves back where this franchise needs to be, being a contender," he said.
Defiant in the face of a season-ending shoulder injury to Kevin Love in the first play-off round and a fractured kneecap for star guard Kyrie Irving in the Finals opener, James lifted an outmanned collection of role players and fill-ins to within two games of a crown.
"Tried as much as we could to try to make up for those guys," he said. "I don't know any other team that's gotten to the Finals without two All-Stars. You've got to have all the playmakers. You've got to be healthy. You've got to be at full strength to win it."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE