It looked, through the first four minutes or so of the game, like tonight might be another coronation. The Warriors jumped out to a quick 9-3 lead over the Cavaliers, and the crowd--enthusiastically booing LeBron James every single time he touched the ball--could sense it.
But LeBron and Kyrie Irving would not allow it. Not tonight.
In the most entertaining game so far in these NBA Finals, LeBron and Kyrie carried the load on offense, while the Cavs' defense kept Golden State in check down the stretch. The result was a 112-97 victory, forcing Game 6 back in Cleveland on Thursday night.
Throughout the game, the Cavs did not move the ball particularly well, but instead relied on their two scorers to make things happen on their own. It was a strategy that failed them many times earlier in the season. But in this game, both guys had it going, hitting shots from the outside and attacking the rim without fear of running into the suspended Draymond Green or, for much of the second half, Andrew Bogut, who sprained his left knee.
The numbers speak for themselves: LeBron finished with 41 points on 16-of-30 shooting (4-of-8 from deep), 16 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and three blocks. It was the kind of all-time performance, in an elimination game on the road, that will be remembered when his legacy is tallied at the end of his career.
Not to be outdone, Kyrie finished with 41 points of his own on 17-of-24 shooting (5-of-7 on threes), plus six assists, three boards, and two steals.
The rest of the Cavs' offense, particularly Kevin Love (who had two points and three rebounds in 33 minutes), did not provide a ton of help. Fortunately, they didn't need to.
Defensively, the Cavs held the Warriors to just 36 points in the second half. Klay Thompson had a very strong 37-point performance, and Stephen Curry quietly added 25 points, but Golden State didn't get much else.
Now, the Cavs will be back on their home floor in Game 6, with a chance to force a Game 7. On Friday night, after Game 4, it seemed like a longshot that they'd be in this position. But one suspension and two brilliant performances have given them a chance. Let's see what they do with it.