CLEVELAND - The coronation of LeBron James as the greatest player ever and the Cavaliers as NBA champions proved to be very premature.
It could happen still, but it will have to take a little longer.
The Cavaliers had a chance to take a commanding 3-1 series lead on the Warriors in the NBA Finals last night at home. But Golden State coach Steve Kerr made a late change to the starting lineup, going small with Andre Iguodala instead of ineffective center Andrew Bogut, and the Warriors came up big in a must-win game.
Playing with more pace and urgency, the Warriors looked like the team that dominated the NBA all season and routed the Cavs, 103-82, Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena to even the series 2-2. Golden State regained the home-court advantage, with the series moving back to the Bay Area for Game 5 Sunday.
"I think the biggest difference was that we played a lot harder," Kerr said. "Yeah, we controlled the tempo and rhythm of the game, but that I think had more to do with us competing."
James proved he is human after all. He cut his head on a courtside camera after Bogut fouled him and he fell out of bounds in the first half. James, who got stitches, still logged 41 minutes and finished with 20 points -- 21 below his series average -- 12 rebounds and eight assists.
He was scoreless in the fourth quarter when Golden State broke open what was a close game. The Warriors led by three late in the third and pushed it to 23 in the fourth.
James, who looked exhausted at the end of the third, started the fourth on the bench. The Warriors' lead went from six to 10. James re-entered with 10:12 left, but Cleveland never cut it to single digits.
"I ran through those 12 minutes of the third and I gassed out," James said. "I was hoping our team could buy me a couple of minutes. You want to be out there, but you want to be effective while you're out there too."
Few Cavs were effective.
Ex-Knick Timofey Mozgov benefitted from the Warriors' small lineup, and had 28 points and 10 rebounds. But Matthew Dellavedova, who had been the breakout star of these Finals, was just 3-for-14 with 10 points. Former Knick J.R. Smith shot 2-for-12 and 0-for-8 from three and had four points.
Smith, Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert were a combined 3-for-22 from three.
Iguodala, who started for the first time all season, had 22 points, hit some big threes and played solid defense on James.
"He's been our best player through four games," Kerr said.
Stephen Curry also scored 22 points. Draymond Green had 17 points and seven rebounds.
Kerr was asked at shootaround and before the game if he was changing the lineup, and he said no each time.
"I lied," Kerr said. "If I tell the truth it's the equivalent of me knocking on David Blatt's door and saying, 'Hey, this is what we're going to do.' So I lied. Sorry, but I don't think they hand you the trophy based on morality. They give it to you if you win."
The Cavs scored the game's first seven points. But the Warriors quickly responded, changed the pace of the game to their style and eventually started making shots.
Golden State led by nine points late in the first quarter and extended to 48-33 with 3:54 remaining in the second after a Green layup. The Warriors were ahead by 15 after Iguodala opened the third with a three-pointer. But Dellavedova hit three-pointers on the Cavs' first two possessions. That sparked a 20-8 run, capped by James throwing down a Dellavedova lob to make it 65-62. The Cavs never got any closer.
"We had to win this game," Curry said. "We still can play a little bit better. But the effort was at a level that it erased some of those mistakes and we just battled from the start."