LeBron James delivered one of his great performances on Thursday, scoring 41 points to power the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 115-101 victory against Golden State 115-101 and force a one-game showdown for the NBA title.
James, who made 16 of 27 shots from the floor, added 11 assists, eight rebounds, four steals and three blocked shots as the Cavaliers levelled the best-of-seven NBA Finals at 3-3, setting up a dramatic seventh-game spectacle on Sunday at Oakland, California.
“We’ve been able to beat a great team two straight games to force a game seven. I can’t wait,” James said. “I’m going to give everything I’ve got in game seven.”
Asked if their NBA record 73-win season would be a failure without the title, Golden State’s Klay Thompson said, “100 percent.”
“It’s either win the whole thing or bust for us. We will feel like we failed.”
Four-time NBA Most Valuable Player James scored 18 consecutive Cavaliers points over the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, almost single-handedly holding off a Warriors rally with aggressive play.
“He had another unbelievable game,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “That’s what we expect of LeBron, and that’s what he’s been doing his whole career. So, one more game, and we need another one out of him.”
‘MADE TO BE BROKEN’
One game from delivering long-suffering Cleveland fans their first major sports crown since 1964, the Cavaliers are trying to complete the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history by becoming the first team to rally from a 3-1 deficit for the crown.
“Records are made to be broken,” James said. “We gave it our all tonight and we were able to come away with the victory.”
Only twice before in NBA Finals history has a team down 3-1 even forced a seventh game, the most recent half a century ago by the Los Angeles Lakers and the first by the 1951 New York Knicks.
Cleveland’s long odds aren’t yet behind them. Road teams have won only three times in 18 NBA Finals’ seventh games.
James, the richest US athlete with $77.2 million in revenue last year, sparked the Cavaliers with emotional slam dunks, timely steals, driving layups, aggressive defense and exciting shot blocks, notably rejecting Golden State star Stephen Curry inside late in the game and trash talking him over his futility.
Frustrated Curry, the NBA Most Valuable Player and scoring leader, led the Warriors with 30 points but was ejected for the first time in his career, fouling out for the first time since 2013 then hurling his mouthpiece into the crowd in anger to earn banishment to the locker room.
“I’m happy he threw his mouthpiece. He should be upset,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He had every right to be upset.
“He’s the MVP of the league. He gets six fouls called on him, three of them were absolutely ridiculous. He steals the ball from Kyrie clean at one point. LeBron flops on the last one.
“Let me be clear – we did not lose because of the officiating. They totally outplayed us and Cleveland deserved to win. But those three of the six fouls were incredibly inappropriate calls for anybody, much less the MVP of the league.”
GREEN SEES RED
Warrior forward Draymond Green, just back from a one-game ban, had to be restrained by Kerr in the dying minutes as he argued with a referee over a foul call.
With a chance to win a title, the Warriors made a historic nightmare start, the fewest points in the first quarter of an NBA Finals game – or any Golden State game – since the shot-clock era began in 1955.
Cleveland overwhelmed Golden State at the start, jumping ahead 13-2 and 31-9 before settling for the second-largest first quarter lead in NBA Finals history at 31-11.
The Warriors never came within seven points after that, this season’s NBA scoring champions opening with their lowest point total in any quarter this season. They missed their first seven shots, hit only 5-of-22 from the floor in the period and just 1-of-9 from 3-point range.
Golden State has lost consecutive games for only the second time all season, the first coming when Oklahoma State took a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference final only to fall in seven games.
The Cavaliers finished 9-1 at home in the playoffs while the Warriors finished 4-6 in road playoff games.