The Cleveland Cavaliers staved off NBA Finals elimination and ended the Golden State Warriors’ shot at an unprecedented perfect run through the playoffs with a gritty 137-116 win on Friday.
Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 40 points as the defending champion Cavaliers pulled to within 3-1 and forced the best-of-seven series back to Oakland.
The Cavaliers, who beat the Warriors in a decisive seventh game last year after trailing 3-1, are now trying to become the first NBA team to rally back from a 3-0 series deficit.
The rare feat has only been accomplished four times in the National Hockey League and once in Major League Baseball.
Kevin Durant led the way for the Warriors with 35 points.
The game was the most physical yet of the Finals, and even saw LeBron James and Durant come face-to-face at midcourt for a heated exchange while a play was being reviewed.
Durant was upset after being accidentally slapped by Kevin Love on a block attempt and after a lengthy review Love was assessed a flagrant foul.
The top-seeded Warriors, who had won their first 15 games of the playoffs, will get another chance to close out the series in front of their home fans on Monday.
Cleveland, determined not to watch the Warriors celebrate a championship on their home court for the second time in three seasons, came out flying with a record-setting 86 points in the first half to lead by 18.
The Cavaliers’ first-half output beat the previous mark of 79 points set in 1985 by the Boston Celtics.
Golden State’s usually sharp-shooting offence was unable to find a rhythm all night and the Cavaliers never took their collective foot off the pedal and led by as many as 22 points late in the second quarter.
Whenever the Warriors looked like they might go on a run and start chipping away at the Cavaliers’ lead the home side would respond admirably with either a rim-rocking dunk from James, a three-pointer from Irving or some tenacious defence.