Let’s take a trip down memory lane to Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals…
As the Cavs run their offense, color analyst Jeff Van Gundy says: “And interestingly, Ezeli goes back in the game.”
Golden State gets a stop, Draymond Green gets an offensive rebound plus the layup, and it’s a four-point lead with less than five 5:30 remaining.
Then the following sequence happens:
1) LeBron gets Ezeli in an iso situation and gets the big man into the air with a pump fake. LeBron makes all three free throws to make it 87-86
2) Steph Curry turns it over with a behind-the-back pass to Klay Thompson that went out of bounds
3) LeBron gets Ezeli in another iso situation and hits a left-wing 3-pointer to make it 89-87 Cavs with 4:52 remaining
After Klay’s layup ties the game and LeBron is dribbling the ball down the floor, Van Gundy says: “And Steve Kerr going back to Harrison Barnes, I’m sure, for Ezeli.”
But with the game still going on, LeBron gets Ezeli into another iso situation. But this time, LeBron misses a left wing jumper.
Barnes eventually replaces Ezeli with the game tied and 3:40 left.
In the end, Kyrie Irving hits the game-winning 3-pointer and the Warriors become the first team in NBA history to blow a 3-1 lead in the Finals.
“You don’t move on from that,” Ezeli said on the “I Am Rapaport Podcast” with Michael Rapaport. “It’s always gonna be something in the back of my mind of, like ‘what could I have done? What could we have done? How did that happen?’ I was with the guys this year at the start — first game of the season, when they got their rings. And I was so happy for my guys — those are my brothers — we went through so many battles together. They’re always gonna be my brothers for life and I was so happy for them.
“On the second side of that is — they just got retribution from that. They got retribution from that 3-1 loss, which was the most humiliating… I was in Europe and people know about this all around! (the world) … for us to lose that series the way we did … the team was beat up and LeBron and Kyrie were just too damn good … there was nothing to do to stop those guys once they got going.
“One of the greatest moments of my life was winning the championship the year before. One of the worst moments of my life was losing that championship … I hate losing but then losing in the way we did — especially given that I wasn’t 100 percent and able to help my team the way I wanted to — it still haunts me ’til today.”
Ezeli ended up signing a two-year deal with the Blazers, but he never appeared in a game during the 2016-17 season because of a left knee injury.
He was waived before the new league year began on July 1, 2017.
Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller