CLEVELAND -– LeBron James and Kyrie Irving followed up a performance for the ages in Game 5 of the NBA Finals with a Game 6 that lifted the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ franchise higher than it ever has been before.
The Cavs, supposedly down and out after falling down 3-1 to the vaunted Golden State Warriors the last time the two teams met at Quicken Loans Arena, came back home and delivered the Warriors a second consecutive loss for just the second time all season with a dominant, wire-to-wire 115-101 win.
Cleveland led by as many as 22 points in the first quarter, but the defending-champion Warriors –- playing at The Q exactly one year to the day when they beat the Cavs to capture the title in Game 6 of the 2015 Finals -– made their inevitable run.
The Cavs’ cushion, which ballooned to as many as 24 points, was down to just nine heading into the fourth quarter thanks to a 10-0 run to close the third. But hope was vanquished not long after for the Warriors when back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry‘s night ended early after he fouled out and then subsequently was ejected for his reaction to the sixth foul.
The Cleveland crowd, getting to cheer on its Cavs for the last time all season, serenaded James with “MVP” chants, surely fueled by the mere sight of Curry.
James played like the award should be renamed in his honor.
It wasn’t just James’ final line of 41 points, eight rebounds, 11 assists, four steals and three blocks, it was the precision passing that makes him as unique of a talent as the league has ever seen. It wasn’t just his second straight 40-point game of the Finals, it was the fact that he scored 18 points straight for Cleveland during one second-half stretch to keep the Warriors at arm’s length.
It wasn’t just Irving’s 23 points, it was the expert dribbling and inspired shot creation that made those scores so exciting to see.
Cleveland’s dynamic duo led the way, but it was so much more than James and Irving. There was Tristan Thompson‘s 15 points on a perfect 6-for-6 shooting with 16 rebounds. There was J.R. Smith‘s 14 points, including a 4-for-10 mark from 3-point range (besting Klay Thompson’s 3-for-10 from deep). There was Mo Williams coming out of nowhere to hit a first-half floater. There was Dahntay Jones, also a surprise to the rotation, scoring five straight points to close the second quarter. There was Kevin Love, playing only 12 minutes because of foul trouble but scoring six of his seven points in the third quarter and bringing the team a new wave of energy.
There was the Cavs’ defense, suffocating for much of the night, holding Golden State to just 11 points in the first quarter and 40.2 percent shooting by the time the final buzzer sounded.
Curry, who had 30 points, was great. James was greater.
And now the Cavs are one win away from the first major pro sports championship for the city of Cleveland in 52 years.
For a series that has yet to see anything but a double-digit outcome, the intrigue for Sunday’s decider couldn’t be any more palpable. Time for what James described as “two of the best words ever: Game 7.”