CLEVELAND — Stephen Curry tried. With the rest of his team ice cold, he went Davidson for a stretch and just tried to do everything himself, on his way to 30 points. But in the end, he fouled out — and in frustration chucked his mouth guard, which will bring a fine from the league.
Klay Thompson tried, he went off for 15 third quarter points to close the gap.
But LeBron James would not let it happen.
In a game that makes him the Finals MVP favorite — whichever team wins Game 7 — LeBron had 41 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds hitting 16-of-27 shots. And he had an emphatic rejection of Curry that was the exclamation point on the night. In two elimination games, LeBron has 82 points, 24 rebounds, 18 assists, 6 blocks, and is a +37.
“It’s LeBron being LeBron,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “He’s one of the greatest of all times. Our back was against the wall and he took it upon himself in the last couple games, himself and Kyrie, to really put this team on their backs and really get us to where we’re trying to get to and that’s a Game 7 in Golden State.”
Behind LeBron and a big night from Tristan Thompson — 15 points and 16 rebounds — the Cavaliers raced out to a 22-point first-quarter lead behind ice-cold shooting from the Warriors (who got good looks and clanked them), then held off a couple of Golden State rallies to win 115-101.
Game 7 is Sunday night in Oakland.
Cleveland fans — with five decades of built up passion — roared their approval all night and by the end were chanting “see you Sunday” and “Cavs in seven.”
Cleveland earned this win by playing harder, with more force and desperation than the Warriors all night. But they were aided by a Warriors team that couldn’t throw a pea in the ocean, got frustrated with the officiating and let it impact their play, and made some stupid passes and poor defensive gambles for a usually smart team.
The Cavaliers won this game by bringing that force from the opening tip.
Cavaliers got off to an 8-0 start because Warriors started 0-of-7 shooting, and that trend continued through the first quarter. Harrison Barnes remained ice cold and bricked a trio of wide open threes (he was 0-of-8 shooting on the night and by the end the Cavs let him take jumpers). Golden State shot 5-of-22 in the first quarter (22.7 percent) and 1-of-9 from three — a number of those very clean looks — with four turnovers, which allowed the Cavaliers to get out run, score a dozen points in the paint and shoot 57.1 percent in the first.
The result was a 31-11 Cleveland lead after one quarter. It was the hole the Warriors could never climb out of.
“Obviously Cleveland brought a lot of force to the game,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I thought we had some good shots early that didn’t go in, and it was like 6-0 after about four minutes. Our defense was pretty good. They had a couple run-outs where they got lay-ups, but our halfcourt defense was good. We just could not get a shot to fall, and then they just blitzed us. As I said, they deserved to win the game. They outplayed us. It was too difficult to come back from 20 down.”
“But once again, they won the game in the first quarter,” Klay Thompson said. “Come Sunday, we’ve got to blitz them. We can’t be on our heels and them be the aggressor. We’ve got so many good players on this team that if they’re trying to take out me, Steph, or whoever, someone’s going to step up.”
Golden State did make a few runs. One came in the second as the Warriors settled down, got stops, hit a few shots (they started 4-of-8 from three in the quarter behind Curry) and chipped away at the lead, getting it all the way down to eight. However, Curry picked up a third foul on a stupid reach, Green picked up a third going over Dahntay Jones back and after Barnes kept missing the Cavaliers went on a run to get the lead back up to 16. At the half, it was 59-43 Cleveland, with the Warriors shooting 5-of-21 from three (Curry was 4-of-8 from three, the rest of the team 1-of-13 with Barnes and Thompson a combined 0-of-9).
To start the third Barnes missed three more open looks and the Cavaliers stretched the lead out to 24 again. Stephen Curry was the only Warrior hitting and resorted to Davidson mode trying to do everything himself, and he got the lead cut to 15. But a turnover by the Warriors and an offensive rebound by the Cavs stomped on any momentum the Warriors would build. Cleveland just continued to out work Golden State.
Then suddenly the Thompson-inspired run came — he had 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the third. Warriors went on a 10-0 run as Thompson hit threes and the Cavaliers slowed down and isolated on offense, allowing the Warriors to defend and get stops. The score was 80-71 Cavaliers after three, just nine points.
Once again in the fourth the Warriors got the lead down to eight. But they struggled to get stops consistently – especially when LeBron started taking over with strong drives and smart passes to set up Thompson and others. Plus, the Warriors would break out a little playground passing — something that works for them against lesser teams during the season — and it would lead to momentum-killing turnovers and transition chances for the Cavaliers.
The end came ultimately when Curry fouled out with a few minutes to go — in frustration he threw his mouth guard into the stands and it hit a fan, which got him ejected and will bring a $25,000 fine from the league. Curry was hot. But he and the Warriors let the inconsistent officiating get into their heads.
“Yeah, I’m happy he threw his mouthpiece,” Kerr said postgame as part of a rant about the officiating that will bring him a fine from the league Monday. “He should be upset. Look, it’s The Finals and everybody’s competing out there. There’s fouls on every play. It’s a physical game. I just think that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the way we run our offense, we’re running, we’re cutting through the lane, we’re a rhythm offense. If they’re going to let Cleveland grab and hold these guys constantly on their cuts and then you’re going to call these ticky-tack fouls on the MVP of the league to foul him out, I don’t agree with that.”
The officiating was inconsistent all game. LeBron played through it.
Because of it, on Sunday his team has a chance at history.