It could take another historic effort from Kyrie Irving and LeBron James to keep Cleveland in the NBA Finals, while the Golden State Warriors faced the possible loss of centre Andrew Bogut.
The defending champion Warriors lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 entering game six Thursday at Cleveland, with the Cavaliers needing a victory to force a seventh game Sunday in California.
James and Irving each scored 41 points to spark Cleveland past Golden State 112-97 Monday to avoid elimination, becoming the first teammates in NBA Finals history to reach 40 points in the same game.
“We’ll be very well prepared for game six,” Irving said. “That’s the only thing that’s on our mind right now. We’re not satisfied. We understand the magnitude of what game six means for us and we know that it will be an incredible level they are going to play at, and we have to play at an even better level.”
Golden State was awaiting final results of an MRI exam on Bogut, the Australian who suffered a left knee injury early in the third quarter Monday, to know his status for the remainder of the series.
Bogut blocked six shots in game two, the most in a finals game since Pau Gasol in 2010, and averages 3.2 points and 3.0 rebounds in the finals.
The Aussie’s absence would partly be offset by the return of forward Draymond Green from a one-game suspension for accumulated flagrant fouls, but still require Golden State dig deeper into the bench for help.
“Our bigs are just going to have to step up. Been doing it all year,” said Warriors guard Klay Thompson. “We’re still in a great position. We’ll come back stronger.”
No team has won the NBA Finals after trailing 3-1 and only two of 33 such teams, the 1951 New York Knicks and 1966 Los Angeles Lakers, even managed to force a game seven.
“We still have our backs against the wall and have to come out swinging. We have to be ready to play again,” Cavaliers forward J.R. Smith said.
“Mentally, nothing can change. We have to continue to play with desperation to exhaustion. We have to try to force a game seven. We have to bring the same effort.”
‘WHATEVER IT TAKES’
James, who also had game highs of 16 rebounds and seven assists, is trying to bring Cleveland its first sports champion since 1964 and avoid a third loss in a row in his sixth consecutive NBA Finals trip.
“It’s do or die for us,” James said. “At this point, it’s whatever it takes.”
The Warriors have made a record 276 3-pointers in this year’s playoffs, paced by NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry, the NBA scoring leader who hit a record 402 3-pointers this season.
“We like our chances going forward and continuing to just try to be us, the best we can, and get one more win,” Curry said. “We’ll be ready, come out with confidence and get the job done.”
Irving says containing Curry is vital to the Cavaliers’ hopes.
“We’ve got to be better in game six in terms of the looks that he was getting,” Irving said. “We understand he’s going to hit some tough shots, but we have to limit some of those opportunities. We have to be a little better.”
Irving hit 17-of-24 shots in game five, the first player to shoot 70 percent and make 40 points in a finals game since Wilt Chamberlain of the Lakers in 1970.
“We’re going to need another performance like that,” Cleveland’s Richard Jefferson said. “I hope he’s ready for two more performances of high-level basketball.”
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue is ready for it, saying his game six plan is the same as game five – “continue to be aggressive, continue to bring physicality and continue to attack.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr expects more from his team in game six.
“We’ll bounce back,” Kerr said. “We’ve got to play better and I’m confident we will.”