The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers exchanged verbal jabs in advance of Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday, and the Eastern Conference champions backed their words up with a serious counterpunch while facing elimination.
On the heels of a 108-97 loss in Game 4 on Friday, the Cavaliers rode signature performances from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to a 112-97 win, trimming their series deficit to 3-2 and forcing Game 6 on Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
Against a Warriors team that was without defensive ace Draymond Green—who served a one-game suspension for accumulating four flagrant-foul points—James erupted for 41 points on 16-of-30 shooting, including 4-of-8 from three-point range, 16 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and three blocks. The effort conjured memories of his Game 6 showing against the Boston Celtics in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, James became the first player in the Finals since at least 1984 to record at least 40 points, 16 boards and seven dimes in a game.
Irving also came up with an enormous, efficient and balanced performance when the Cavaliers needed him most. In 40 minutes, Irving matched James with 41 points on 17-of-24 shooting, including 5-of-7 from three, and six assists.
ESPN’s Bomani Jones noted that Irving was unstoppable with his playground-style game:
As Bleacher Report’s Michael Pina noted, Irving—who has scored at least 30 points in three straight games—has shined brighter than Curry on the game’s biggest stage:
Irving was particularly brilliant down the stretch. After the Warriors cut the Cavs’ lead to six points with 6:39 remaining in the game, Irving erupted for seven straight points, including a pull-up three from the right wing that made it 109-96 with 5:33 to play.
According to the NBA’s official Twitter account, Monday marked the first time a pair of teammates scored 40-plus points apiece in the same NBA Finals game.
Irving’s contributions were especially big for Cleveland since Kevin Love floundered with two points and three rebounds in 33 minutes after head coach Tyronn Lue placed him back in the starting lineup.
Aesthetically, the Cavaliers’ performance was a welcome sight after their offense stagnated in the fourth quarter of Game 4.
Though the Oracle Arena faithful showered James with boos every time he touched the ball, Cleveland’s leading man didn’t shy away from the moment. He finished the first half with 25 points and nine rebounds, matching his Game 4 scoring output in the process.
The 25 points were also the most James has posted in a single half in these playoffs, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
But more impressive was how James reached that gaudy total, as NBA.com’s John Schuhmann pointed out:
Thompson torched the Cavs’ shaky defense to the tune of 26 first-half points on 8-of-12 shooting, including 6-of-8 from three. He was so dialed in that he scored more points during the opening 24 minutes than he did in any of the series’ first four games.
He also entered rare air with the blistering shooting display, as ESPN Stats & Info documented:
Looking ahead to Game 6, the Warriors will have Green back for their second attempt at a closeout win, but they may be without Bogut. Cleveland, meanwhile, will be looking to win on its home floor for the second time in these Finals after splitting Games 3 and 4.
Not only has no team in NBA history come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the Finals, per WhoWins.com, but Golden State has also lost back-to-back games just once this season.
“Kyrie was great tonight,” Thompson said, per the Bay Area News Group’s Marcus Thompson. “He had my number. Nothing you can do. He was making tough shots.”
James also touted Irving’s play, per ESPN’s Rachel Nichols: “You have a guy like this that’s very special—probably one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen live.”
Among those frustrated with the outcome was Curry’s wife, Ayesha, who took to Twitter to express her displeasure with the officiating:
“We had to play better, and we didn’t,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said, according to Nichols.
Said Lue, per the team’s official Twitter account: “We never quit. We stuck with it. I’m very excited and proud of how we scrap and continue to play hard.”
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