CLEVELAND, Ohio: LeBron James unleashed one of his most devastating all-around performances on Thursday (Friday in Manila), scoring 41 points to power the Cleveland Cavaliers over Golden State 115-101 and force a one-game showdown for the NBA title.
James made 16 of his 27 shots from the floor, added 11 assists, eight rebounds, four steals and three blocked shots as the Cavaliers leveled 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.”
The 31-year-old forward, who averages an NBA-best 32.4 points when facing playoff elimination, also scored 41 points in a must-win fifth game road victory, making him the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000 with back-to-back 40-or-more finals games.
“He has had two great games to keep his team alive,” Warriors star Stephen Curry said.
“That’s what he’s supposed to do.”
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 the last Warriors rally with his aggressive play.
“When a guy has got it going like that, it’s just unbelievable to be a part of,” said
Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, who scored 23 points.
“He had another unbelievable game,” added Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue. “That’s what we expect of LeBron, and that’s what he’s been doing his whole career.”
When 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.”
‘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.
Long odds aren’t yet behind the Cavs. Road teams have won only three times in 18 NBA Finals’ game sevens, none since Washington took the crown at Seattle in 1978.
James, the richest US athlete with $77.2 million in revenue last year, sparked the Cavaliers with emotional slam dunks, timely steals, driving lay-ups, aggressive defense and exciting shot blocks, notably rejecting Curry inside late in the game and trash-talking him over his futility.
When asked what James said, Curry replied, “Nothing.”
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 a spectator in anger to earn banishment to the locker room.
“I had some stuff I wanted to get off my chest after the way the game went and that was it,” he said.
“It was obviously frustrating fouling out in the fourth quarter of a clinching game,” Curry added. “So it got the best of me, but I’ll be all right for next game.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Curry both questioned the quality of the foul calls.
“I’m happy he threw his mouthpiece. He should be upset,” 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.”
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 nightmare start, the fewest points in the first quarter of an NBA Finals game since the shot-clock era began in 1955 and their fewest in any quarter all season.
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.