Cleveland Cavaliers took another step in their historic comeback attempt with a 115-101 win over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday to force a once-unthinkable decisive seventh game to the NBA Finals.
LeBron James-led Cavaliers, one victory away from becoming the first team to win an NBA championship after falling behind 3-1 in the Finals, will now head to Oakland for Sunday’s winner-take-all showdown riding a wave of momentum.
“It’s two of the greatest words in the world, and that’s ‘Game Seven,’ so I’ll play it anywhere,” James told reporters when asked about hitting the road for Sunday’s game.
Cleveland used an explosive first half in which they led by as many as 22 points to set the tone and never allowed the usually sharp-shooting Warriors to settle into a rhythm or get any closer than seven points the rest of the way.
The Cavaliers built a 24-point lead in the third that looked like it might spell the end for the Warriors but the reigning champions finally closed out the quarter on a 10-0 run to pull within nine points.
But the Cavaliers, who got a game-high 41 points from James, managed to hang on for the win and keep alive their hopes at a maiden NBA championship.
Stephen Curry scored a team-high 30 points for the stunned Warriors but the two-time reigning league Most Valuable Player fouled out of the game late in the fourth quarter and then, in a rare display of frustration, threw his mouthguard into the stands to earn the first ejection of his career.
But Curry insists he and his teammates have not lost sight of their goal.
“We know what kind of team we are, what we’re capable of, what we’ve accomplished so far, and how together we are,” said Curry. “We haven’t splintered at all. I think we’re more mentally tough than letting two games not go our way kind of put any doubt in our heads.”
After falling behind 2-0 in the series, the Cavs were left for dead by many impartial observers who expected the top-seeded defending champion Warriors to run away with the series, some even calling for a four-game sweep.
But after splitting the next two games, the resurgent Cavs used a sparkling Game Five performance to shift momentum in their favour and, perhaps, place a seed of doubt in the minds of the Warriors.
The Cavaliers are now just the third team to force a Game Seven after falling behind 3-1, joining the 1951 New York Knicks and the 1966 Los Angeles Lakers.
With the win, the Cavaliers also kept alive their quest for a maiden NBA title that would be Cleveland’s first professional sports championship since the 1964 Cleveland Browns of the National Football League.
“We want to give the city of Cleveland a championship. We want to give the state of Ohio a championship. We want to give the Cleveland organization a championship,” said Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue. “So that’s what we’re all about, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”