CLEVELAND — Say goodbye to both playoff perfection and that historic 16-0 record for the Warriors.
And say hello to hope — granted, really long-shot hope — for the Cavaliers. They were dead, down 3-0 to a Warriors team being compared with the all-time greats. The Warriors let it slip away last year, becoming the first team ever to cough up a 3-1 NBA Finals lead as Cleveland rallied to win. Not again, the Warriors felt.
“You hear some chatter going on throughout the Warriors locker room in terms of them trying to end it here,” Kyrie Irving said. “And it was another do-or-die game for us, and we had to leave it all out there.”
And no one left more than Irving, who scored 40 points as hope now exists after the Cavaliers exploded from the opening tip Friday night for the greatest scoring quarter followed by the greatest scoring half — both made possible with a record 3-point shooting display. So the Cavs produced a pulse in what was perceived to be a playoff cadaver with a often nasty, usually physical and always offensive 137-116 Game 4 win that ended the Warriors’ postseason victory run at 15 games.
Just like last year, it’s 3-1 Warriors.
“They got us where they want us,” said LeBron James, who forged his Finals record ninth career triple-double with 31 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. “The Warriors have championship DNA but we do as well.”
“They brought a lot of force and we weren’t ready for it,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
The Warriors still are comforted knowing they have three chances, two at home, to win one game to upend the defending champs. Game 5 is Monday in Oakland, Calif.
“We have to come back home, so we might as well come back with a win. That’s our mentality,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “We played well there before, so if we have the same approach that we had tonight … then we have great chances.”
The Cavaliers at times looked as if they were going to score enough to cover any and all remaining games. They established a Finals record with 24 3-pointers, breaking the standard of 18 the Warriors set in Game 2. James broke his tie with Magic Johnson for most career Finals triple-doubles, with two of his 31 points coming in spectacular fashion — throwing the ball underhanded off the backboard, catching it and dunking.
The Warriors simply were overrun from the outset. In that head-turning first quarter, they scored 33 points. Commendable. Until you realize the Cavaliers scored a Finals quarter record 49. Oh, and a Finals half record of 86.
“Just one of those games. Not going to overreact to one. Obviously, I can play better,” said Stephen Curry (14 points, 4-of-13 shooting). “In the first quarter as a team we weren’t able to establish ourselves.”
They didn’t do too swell in the rest of the game, either.
The Warriors, rated as the league’s best defensive team, looked helpless in their efforts to stop the Cavaliers tsunami. Three starters — Draymond Green (16 points, 14 rebounds), Klay Thompson (13 points) and Curry — each had two fouls in the first quarter. Kevin Durant, who finished with 35 points, seemingly helped keep the deficit under triple digits.
Kevin Love had 23 points, making six 3s, while J.R. Smith added 15 on five 3s. Tristan Thompson awoke and grabbed 10 rebounds. At the end, Cleveland fans chanted “Cavs in seven.” Things were going Cleveland’s way.
“We felt like there were times throughout the series we got consistent looks from the outside and didn’t knock them down,” said Love, who rated Irving and James as the difference-makers Friday. “You’ve got a freight train and a guy who’s the best in the world playing downhill like that.”
Irving, who missed a critical step-back 3 late in Game 3, shot 7-of-12 on 3-pointers, 15-of-27 overall. Had the Cavs been a little more efficient at the foul line, they could have breathed even easier. But they missed eight free throws in the first quarter alone. But at the end they were 24-of-45 on 3s (53.3 percent). They entered shooting 29.8 for the series.
When the Warriors began the third quarter with quick scores by Curry and Green, the Cavaliers quickly called time. After all, the lead was a mere 14.
So Irving and Love promptly bagged 3-pointers to hike the lead to 20 points, 92-72, at 10:13. The Warriors got to within 11 in the fourth and were beaten back.