CLEVELAND — LeBron James wasn’t going to watch the Warriors celebrate a championship on the Cavaliers’ home court for the second straight year.
The Cavaliers have erased a 3-1 deficit, evened the series and forced a winner-take-all Game 7 after James carried them to a 115-101 resounding victory over the Warriors in Game 6 Thursday night inside a deafening Quicken Loans Arena.
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James scored 41 points for the second straight game, had 11 assists, eight rebounds, four steals and three blocks in one of the best all-around performances you will see in one of the biggest moments in his career. He also swatted Stephen Curry’s layup in the fourth and then had some words for him.
“He had another unbelievable game,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “That’s what we expect of LeBron, and that’s what he’s been doing his whole career. One more game, and we need another one out of him.”
The Cavaliers jumped all over the Warriors early, building a 22-point lead in the first quarter and were up 24 in the third. Now after the best regular season in NBA history, the Warriors are dangerously close to suffering the worst Finals’ collapse ever.
Thirty-two teams led the NBA Finals 3-1 before this series and all 32 teams won the championship. History could be made by both teams in Game 7 Sunday night in Oakland.
“Two of the greatest words in the world is Game 7,” James said. “I’ll play it anywhere.”
Curry, the two-time MVP, scored 30 points, but he fouled out with 4:22 left in the fourth quarter and was ejected from the game after throwing his mouthpiece into the stands. Curry was irate, believing he didn’t foul James on that play. He has thrown his mouthpiece before, but usually at the scorer’s table. He said his “aim was off.”
Before leaving the court, Curry went over and apologized to the fan he hit. He likely will be fined, as will Warriors coach Steve Kerr for criticizing the officiating.
“He had every right to be upset,” Kerr said. “He’s the MVP of the league. He gets six fouls called and three of them were absolutely ridiculous. Those three of the six fouls were incredibly inappropriate calls for anybody, much less the MVP of the league.
Kerr added: “I’m happy he threw his mouthpiece.”
The Warriors followed up last year’s championship season by going 73-9 in the regular season. They have lost eight times in the postseason. A ninth would be devastating. But it probably would be the sweetest victory for James, a two-time champion who has lost four times in the Finals.
James returned to Cleveland to help bring the city its first professional sports championship since 1964, and he was nothing short of brilliant in the biggest game in the franchise’s history.
He scored 18 consecutive points for Cleveland during one second-half stretch and was responsible for 24 of the Cavs’ first 25 points in the fourth quarter, leading them to victory after the Warriors got within seven.
“LeBron being LeBron,” Lue said. “He’s one of the greatest of all time.
Kyrie Irving added 23 for Cleveland and Tristan Thompson finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds.
Klay Thompson scored 25. Draymond Green, who felt he let his team down by being suspending for Game 5, was looking to make amends. He had eight points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
The Warriors still have the homecourt advantage, but you have to wonder if their confidence is shot and how much they have left.
There have been reports and rumblings that Curry is playing with knee and shoulder issues and may require some type of surgery after this is over. Andre Iguodala had lower back stiffness that limited him throughout the game. The Warriors lost starting center Andrew Bogut for the series in Game 5 with bone bruises in his left knee.
It was the one-year anniversary that the Warriors won the championship in Cleveland in Game 6. Before the game Lue said Golden State celebrating the title in their building “left a bitter taste in our mouth.”
The Cavaliers definitely had a “Not in our house” mentality. But the Warriors made a run to get within 86-79 with under eight minutes to go in the game. James wouldn’t let the Warriors get closer.
He hit an off-balanced shot late in the possession, and then converted a Golden State turnover into a layup to make it 90-79 with 7:00 to go. Later, James fed Thompson for a lob dunk and a 99-86 cushion. After a Thompson free throw, Curry got whistled for the foul and lost his cool.
The Warriors may have lost more than that.