By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) – LeBron James responded emphatically to critics with a transcendent NBA Finals performance that not only kept the Cleveland Cavaliers’ season alive but may have put a seed of doubt into the minds of the Golden State Warriors.
James and teammate Kyrie Irving scored 41 points each for a desperate Cavaliers team that took advantage of the Warriors’ playing without suspended defensive stalwart Draymond Green to pull within 3-2 in the best-of-seven NBA Finals.
The 112-97 win on Monday marked the first step in the Cavs’ bid to become the only team to rebound from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals and win the championship. They will host the Warriors in Game Six on Thursday.
“I finally did a great job of not turning the ball over and got to my spots, got my teammates involved. Just tried to put us in position to be successful,” James said after Game Five.
“Obviously it’s not always a bed of roses on the court for 48 minutes, but you just try to go out there and trust your keys. That’s something I’m very comfortable with, and I’ve been
comfortable with before in the past.”
James, one of the greatest NBA players of all-time, had been criticized by some onlookers early in the series for failing to step up and take over in a Finals game.
But thanks to James, whose 16 rebounds and seven assists were more than any other player on the court during Game Five, the Cavaliers appear to have a legitimate chance to pull off the greatest NBA Finals escape act.
Cleveland will surely like their chances back at the Quicken Loans Arena, where they have lost once all postseason. And if they manage to force a decisive seventh game back in Oakland, all the pressure would be on the top-seeded Warriors.
“We get to go back home, and we’ve played well there all year,” said Cavaliers forward Kevin Love. “We love playing there in front of the home fans, so this is a good opportunity for us to get one.”
But the Warriors, who won a record 73 wins during the 82-game regular season, are not about to panic as the championship repeat they have targeted since the start of the season in October remains one win from reality.
For the Warriors, another NBA title would be the only way to crown their record-setting season.
“So we go back to Cleveland and tee it up again,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “But I like our position a lot better than theirs.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Larry Fine)