The Cleveland Cavaliers needed an all-time performance to beat the Golden State Warriors and force a Game 5.
USA TODAY Sports
CLEVELAND – Hold off on the debate about the greatest NBA team ever.
History met the heart of a champion on Friday night at The Q.
For one night, at least, the proposed best team ever was no match for the pride and fury of the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers, who finally put together the type of complete game they’ve been waiting for throughout these NBA Finals.
Cavaliers 137, Warriors 116.
There would be no sweep, no brooms, no Golden State celebration on the Cavs’ home court.
“The last game hit me in a very deep place,” said Cavs guard Kyrie Irving, whose game-high 40 points included seven three-pointers. “You hear chatter going on, that they wanted to win it here. But it was another do-or-die situation. We had to leave it all out there.”
Or have some sort of grand exorcism.
The Cavs, who blew a six-point lead in the final three minutes of Game 3, seemingly disposed of all the demons that haunted them all series.
“In those three losses,” Irving said, “we lost track of who we were.”
Irving and LeBron James – who produced his NBA Finals-record ninth triple-double – were typically brilliant.
But it was the unexplained phenomena that ruled the night, which began with Golden State seeking to become the first NBA champion to win a title with a 16-0 postseason record.
The Cavs set an NBA Finals record by nailing 24 three-pointers. Cleveland, which was actually one of the NBA’s top trey-shooting teams during the regular season, had been so cold in the Finals. During the first three games, the Cavs hit a total of 31 three-pointers at a rate of 29.8%.
The fire on Friday night was measured by a 24-of-45 effort (53.3%).
Wait a minute. Don’t the Splash Brothers play for the other side?
It was as though LeBron and Co. tapped their inner Warriors spirit, in more ways than one.
As James put it, “The Warriors have championship DNA and so do we.”
You might have expected that one of these teams would set an NBA Finals record with 49 points in the first quarter. But that expectation would have rested with Golden State. Instead, the Cavs set the mark against the team that, for all of the Warriors’ firepower, also have the NBA’s best defense.
The Cavs set the NBA Finals mark for most points in a half, too, in building an 86-68 lead.
The Cavs? Just crazy.
But it happened as J.R. Smith fired away, Kevin Love found his stroke and Tristan Thompson rediscovered his muscle. Too bad this all didn’t happen in Game 3, too.
So the Cavs are right back where they were a year ago in these Finals, headed to Oakland while trailing the series, three games to one.
It is still a long, long shot that the Cavs will rally again to win the NBA title. But you can’t question this team’s heart. If nothing else, Game 4 was the ultimate statement game.
Said Love, “We’re a team that never counts ourselves out.”
Yes, there’s still hope in Believeland. After all, they’ve been here before.
“We’ve got to come back home,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said, repeating a line he used last year at this time. “We might as well come home with a win.”
That’s about as far as Lue feels he needs to go when expressing a motivational tone. Before Game 4, there was no sort of fiery pre-game speech from the coach.
But he sensed at the mid-day shoot-around that the effort and focus would show up. He knew. The Cavs have too much pride to go down without a fight.
“Tonight,” Lue said, “was who we are.”
Which earned a chance to show on Monday night just how much heart they have left.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell