The Cleveland Cavaliers’ season isn’t over yet. And they have Kyrie Irving to thank.
Down 3-0 coming into Friday’s Game 3, the Cavs picked up their first win of the series behind a 40 point, seven rebound, four assist night from Irving. LeBron James chipped in a 31 point, 11 assist, 10 rebound performance — if one can simply chip in with a triple-double — and Kevin Love added 23 points and five rebounds. Kevin Durant lead the Warriors with 35 points.
The Cavs opened up the scoring and never trailed after J.R. Smith hit a three-pointer 15 seconds into the game. By halftime, the Cavs had hit 13 threes as a team with Irving scoring 28 points and LeBron scoring 22 points. Love added 17 of his own. Throughout the half, Cleveland stayed aggressive and constantly put the Warriors’ defense on its heels in the halfcourt. The Warriors were also limited by foul trouble with Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala all picking up at least two fouls.
The game started to get chippy and was slowed down by the refs in the the third. The Cavs’ lead hit 20 when Love hit a three with 10:14 left in the third quarter. With 7:16, Love was called for a flagrant-1 foul after a foul on Durant. In the aftermath. James and Durant jawed at one another while play was paused. Both were called for technicals.
Soon after, with 6:18 to play, Green was called for a foul and a what appeared to be a second technical after arguing with the refs. In the first half, Green had been called for a technical and it appeared he’d been ejected. But the refs said the first technical had actually been called on Warriors coach Steve Kerr, so Green stayed in the game.
By the 2:38 mark, the Warriors had whittled the Cavs’ lead down to 12 after Curry split a pair of free throws. Physical play between the two teams again broke out when it appeared Zaza Pachulia hit Iman Shumpert below the waist after the two were tangled up going for a loose ball. Both players were called for double technicals. But Cleveland closed out the quarter strong with Deron Williams scoring his first two baskets of the series and it led 115-96 after three.
With LeBron, Curry and Durant all on the bench to start the fourth, Golden State cut into Cleveland’s lead. It dropped to 11 after David West tipped in an offensive rebound with 9:40 to play. But on the Cavs’ next possession, Irving hit a three to push the lead back to 14 and then to 16 with a two-pointer with 8:42 to play. For the next six minutes, the Cavs kept Golden State at bay before Irving hit his final three of the night with 2:18 to play. It gave Cleveland a 21 point lead and prompted to call a timeout with both sides pulling their main forces back with Irving having decided the game’s fate.
Irving finished the night shooting 7-12 from three after missing all seven of his attempts in the Cavs’ Game 3 loss. As a team, the Cavs scored 49 first quarter points, 89 points in the first half and hit 24 three-points. All three are NBA records. James’ triple-double was his ninth all-time in the Finals, moving him past Magic Johnson for first all-time.
Game 5 of the Finals is Monday in Oakland. Tipoff is a 9 p.m.