OAKLAND, Calif. — The NBA’s decision to suspend Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green for Game 5 of the NBA Finals gave the Cleveland Cavaliers a chance to get back into the series.
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving proceeded to take advantage.
Cleveland’s dynamic duo scored 41 points apiece Monday night to propel the Cavaliers to a 112-97 victory over the Warriors in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 inside Oracle Arena. The win pulled Cleveland to within three games to two in this best-of-seven series and sent the Finals back to Northeast Ohio for Game 6 Thursday night.
“We had to play better and we didn’t,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said. “Both of those guys played terrific games. I thought our defensive communication was lacking . . . they made a lot of shots in transition when we weren’t there.”
James and Irving delivered in the way stars are supposed to in these kinds of situations. James had 41 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists while shooting 16 for 30 from the field and 4 for 8 from three-point range; Irving had 41 points and six assists while shooting a blistering 17 for 24 overall and 5 for 7 from behind the arc.
Their combined firepower was too much for the Green-less Warriors to overcome, as Golden State wilted down the stretch under a barrage of ridiculous Irving jumpers and overpowering James drives. The result was Cleveland getting new life where, at least before Green’s suspension, it appeared the Cavaliers had none.
“Our coaching staff gave us a great game plan and, as one of the leaders of the team, we just went out and executed,” James said. “You’ve got a guy like this who is very special, it’s probably one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen live. To put on the show that he did, you just go out and follow the keys and play winning basketball, and we did that tonight.”
The intensity level both in the stands and on the court lived up to expectations after Green was suspended Sunday afternoon for accumulating too many flagrant foul points. That alone would’ve had the Warriors, and their crowd, amped up to try to close this series out without Green in Game 5.
But then the Cavaliers and Warriors — plus some of their family members — took turns trading verbal volleys Sunday afternoon once Green’s suspension was official. There was Klay Thompson saying James must have “had his feelings hurt.” There was James responding by claiming he was taking the high road, only for Stephen Curry’s wife, Ayesha, to respond by making fun of James for saying so.
Privately, the Warriors were seething about Green’s suspension — not only because it happened, but because they felt the Cavaliers campaigned for it. But Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue said before Monday’s game he wasn’t concerned with how Golden State would react to Green being out or how it might impact how the Warriors would play.
“I don’t care about Golden State,” Tyronn Lue said. “I mean, we’ve got a fire lit, too. We’re down 3-1. So, I mean, that’s the decision the league made, and it’s unfortunate on a big stage like this, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to win the game. We’ve got to come out and play and take the game.
“With Draymond being out, it hurts them defensively, but we’ve still got to come and play. So that has no bearing on the game. We’ve got to be ready to play.”
Green’s absence, though, meant the spotlight would be squarely on James. And, as he has so many times before during his legendary career, he responded with a monster performance. With Green unable to meet him at the rim, James came out trying to do whatever it took to carry the Cavaliers to a win, putting up 25 points and nine rebounds in 22 first-half minutes.
That, combined with 18 first-half points from Irving, allowed Cleveland to enter the halftime break tied at 61 with Golden State despite the Warriors getting 26 points from Thompson and another 13 from Curry.
In the third quarter, though, the Cavaliers managed to pull away behind a magnificent all-around showing from James. Not only did he go 4 for 5 from the field for 11 points, but he also created six of Cleveland’s seven other field goals in the quarter and didn’t commit a single turnover.
That set the stage for Irving to take over in the fourth, and he followed up an 11-point third quarter of his own by scoring 12 in the fourth — including 10 in a row in one back-breaking two-minute stretch, pushing Cleveland’s lead from seven with 7 minutes 30 seconds remaining to 13 with 5:33 remaining and ensuring the Cavaliers will play at least one more game this season.
While the Cavaliers’ stars couldn’t miss a shot, no one on the Warriors could make much of anything. After Golden State went 11 for 21 in the first half from three-point range, the Warriors combined to shoot a dismal 3 for 21 in the second half — including 1 for 10 in the fourth. Once Curry made a pull-up jumper to cut Cleveland’s lead to 102-96 with 6:39 remaining, the Warriors never made another field goal and missed their final nine shots.
“I mean, you tip your hat to them,” Curry said. “They had a great night, made some tough shots, made some open shots that we had miscommunication on. They did what they needed to do to help their team get a win.
“So over the course of this series we’ve done a pretty good job of containing them and trying to force them into tough spots on the floor. Tonight they kind of overcame that. Like Klay said, we like our chances going forward and continuing to just try to be us, the best we can, and get one more win.”
To make matters worse, starting center Andrew Bogut was lost with what looked like a serious left knee injury in the third quarter after he landed awkwardly and fell to the ground in serious pain. He eventually was helped off the court but couldn’t put any weight on his leg.
Thompson finished with 37 points and Curry had 25 , but both combined to go 19 for 41 overall and 11 for 25 from three-point range. On a night where James and Irving couldn’t miss, that wasn’t enough for Golden State to close this series out.
And, as a result, it is headed back to Cleveland.