By Frank Pingue
CLEVELAND (Reuters) – The Golden State Warriors bounced back from an embarrassing road loss two days ago to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 108-97 on Friday and move one win away from a second consecutive NBA championship.
The win was a devastating blow to LeBron James’s Cavaliers, who lost their first home game of the postseason and now trail the best-of-seven NBA Finals 3-1 with Game Five scheduled for Monday in Oakland.
“All of our guys played extremely well. We just competed like crazy,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told reporters. “It was a great response from Game Three, where we were really embarrassed by our performance.”
Stephen Curry powered Golden State, who lost by 30 points on Wednesday, by scoring a game-high 38 while Kyrie Irving led the Cavaliers with 34 points. James had 25 points and 13 rebounds for his 10th double-double of the postseason.
Of the 32 teams that have faced a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals none have ever come back to win the championship.
But Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, well aware that the odds are stacked against his team, had a blunt message.
“If you don’t think we can win, don’t get on the plane. I just think we’ve got to come back anyway, so we might as well come back and play,” said Lue, about the possibility of forcing a Game Six. “We’ve got to come back to Cleveland, don’t we?”
The Warriors, who fell behind by as many as 20 points after a miserable start to Game Three, responded with a much stronger effort to start this one as each team traded shots for much of the first two quarters.
The tightly-contested first half, easily the most intense 24 minutes of the series so far, included 15 lead changes, which was more than the previous three games combined.
Cleveland looked ready to pull away to start the second half when they extended their lead to eight and whipped the home crowd into a lather but Golden State would not fold.
The Warriors quickly took over in the final quarter when they shored up their defense and kicked their offense into a higher gear.
With just under six minutes to play Harrison Barnes gave the Warriors their largest lead of the night up to that point when he drained a three-pointer for a 93-84 lead.
It marked a 17-point turnaround from the third quarter when Cleveland, who went without a field goal for a six-minute stretch of the fourth, led by eight points.
“I thought we played hard. I thought we competed. I just thought we made some defensive mistakes that cost us,” said Lue. “And every time we made a mistake, they made us pay.”
Late in the fourth quarter the game was briefly interrupted when a shirtless fan with “Trump Sucks” painted on his chest ran onto the court inside Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, which will host the Republican National Convention next month.
(Editing by Steve Keating/Sudipto Ganguly)