By Rory Carroll
OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) – LeBron James powered the sharpshooting Cleveland Cavaliers to a season-saving 112-97 win over the defending champion Golden State Warriors on Monday to climb within 3-2 in the best-of-seven NBA Finals.
Cleveland, facing elimination at the hands of the top-seeded Warriors, got 41 points each from James and Kyrie Irving and displayed a tenacious defense to set up another do-or-die game for the Cavaliers on Thursday in Cleveland.
“We are just happy we got another day, that’s all we can ask for. We got another day to survive,” James, who also had 16 rebounds and seven assists, said after the game.
“We understand this is a great team no matter who is out on the floor for those guys. They are the champions so we’ve got to be ready.”
With their season on the line, the Cavaliers exploded with their best game yet of the NBA Finals as James and Kyrie Irving proved too much for a Warriors team playing without suspended defensive stalwart Draymond Green.
The Cavaliers duo became the first teammates to score at least 40 points in an NBA Finals game.
“They had two great games, two breakout games. We need those two guys to give us confidence early, and they both did that,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said about James and Irving.
“But I’m just very excited and proud of the way we scrapped and continued to play hard. That’s how we’ve got to play. That’s us.”
The game got off to a wild start and produced the best 24 minutes yet of the Finals as the Warriors and Cavaliers each displayed some incredible shot-making that left the teams tied 61-61 at halftime.
It marked the highest-scoring first half in an NBA Finals game since the 1987 championship between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.
But after a tight first half it was Cleveland who finally pulled ahead by 10 points late in the third quarter as Irving carried over the shooting clinic he put on during the first 24 minutes to keep the home crowd in check.
With a chance to clinch the title on their home court, where they had lost just three times all season, the Warriors were unable to find a way back into the game as the Cavs stymied any bit of momentum Golden State tried to generate.
Klay Thompson had a team-high 37 points for the Warriors on 11-of-20 shooting, including six three-pointers, but it was far from enough on this night.
“We had a good offensive first half, made some shots, had 61 points, and then kind of got bogged down in the second,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. “We tried a lot of different things, and nothing seemed to work. It was one of those nights.”
Green will be back in the Warriors lineup for Thursday’s pivotal Game Six after serving a one-game ban after being assessed his fourth flagrant foul from his scuffle with James in the previous contest.
The Cavaliers are trying to become the first team to win a championship after falling behind 3-1 in the NBA Finals.
(Writing by Frank Pingue; Editing by Steve Keating)