CLEVELAND, Ohio: After being handed their worst loss in more than two years, the Golden State Warriors bounced back to down the Cleveland Cavaliers and move one win shy of completing a dream title run.
NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry scored 38 points and Klay Thompson added 25 to power Golden State past the hosts 108-97 Friday (Saturday in Manila) and grab a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven NBA Finals with game five Monday in California.
For the Cavaliers and star LeBron James, who knows no team has ever recovered from a 3-1 hole to win in the finals, it was a time to search for answers.
“If you don’t think we can win, don’t get on the plane,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.
“In the NBA Finals, you have got to lay it all on the line.”
Cleveland ripped the Warriors 120-90 in game three just two nights earlier, but a Golden State team that won an NBA record 73 regular-season games and battled from a 3-1 deficit to beat Oklahoma City in the Western Conference final was not about to get humiliated again.
“This team has been through a lot together,” Golden State forward Draymond Green said.
“This team has great character. No matter what we continue to battle and defend. If we do that, our offense will get going. That’s the way we always approach things and it works out for us.”
A tense game turned when Golden State used a 26-12 run in the third quarter to seize a 79-73 edge. Cleveland answered to regain the lead but Harrison Barnes hit two 3-pointers in a 12-1 run that put the Warriors on top to stay.
“We played physical. That’s what was the big difference for us,” Barnes said. “Just trying to be aggressive, being able to take those shots whether you make them or miss them.”
For James, it came down to lamenting the fact he only had four free throw chances despite driving time and again to the basket, referees whistling fouls less than he would have liked.
“It has been like that all year for the most part,” James said. “I’m not quite sure what I can do personally to get to the free-throw line, but I’ve got to continue to be aggressive for our team.
“I’m getting hit, but the refs [referees]are not seeing it that way on my drives. That’s what opens up the floor for a lot of our shooters. It’s tough playing 46 minutes and only going to the line four times, as much as I attack the rim. So it’s just a tough situation for our team.”
James, who had 25 points but seven of Cleveland’s 11 turnovers, was hopeful not to draw a fine from the league for criticizing referees.
“I didn’t talk about the referees. I was asked a question and I answered it. I’m going to save my 25K,” he said.
“I haven’t been solid with the basketball. A lot of it is making plays not only for myself but for my teammates.”