For one night, the Cleveland Cavaliers turned into the team they say they are — a team that can compete with, and even beat, the Golden State Warriors.
The verdict: Cavs 137, Warriors 116 in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Friday in Cleveland.
Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but the defending champion Cavs trail the series, 3-1. Game 5 is scheduled for Monday at Golden State.
So how did the Cavs do it? By scoring — a lot.
In fact, they built a 49-33 lead — at the end of the FIRST quarter. Those 49 points in a quarter are a Finals record, and this must be what the old American Basketball Association looked like.
It was lots of 3-pointers (a Finals-record 13 in a half for the Cavs), plenty of trash talk, and three referees who called the game as if they had spent the previous three hours bellied up to a bar and tossing back some shots.
It was the crowd chanting, “Cavs in 7,” at the end of the game, and throwing in some serious jabs at Warriors forward Draymond Green before that.
It was Green responding by telling reporters, “I don’t pay that much attention to anybody in Cleveland, honestly. They don’t seem to be the smartest people around.”
It was also Green picking up two technical fouls, or maybe not, depending on who you ask. The refs said he didn’t. The scorekeepers said he did. The NBA and its fans wondered who was actually in charge here.
Anyway, it was LeBron James compiling yet another triple-double — this time with 31 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. That gave James nine triple-doubles in the Finals, passing Magic Johnson for the most in league history.
Along with all that, James overtook Michael Jordan for third place on the Finals’ all-time scoring list (1,176 points) early in the first quarter.
Oh, the Cavs also set an NBA postseason first-half record with 86 points at halftime. The Warriors scored 68, and that too (154 first-half points) was a record.
Basically, it was a night of remarkable numbers, a night when even good defense (and there was some) simply did not matter, and a night when the building rocked with memories of last year’s championship.
But mostly, it was a win, and the Cavs simply had to have it.
“Listen, at the end of the day, we want to just try to put ourselves in position to play another game, and we did that tonight,” James told the media. “Hopefully we can do it Monday night and come back here.”
Kyrie Irving delivered his second straight masterful performance, seemingly toying with the opposition on his way to 40 points and 7-of-12 shooting on 3-pointers.
“Every game is do or die, and we understand that,” Irving told the media. “We’re ready to live in it.”
Overall, the Cavs moved the basketball and played with great energy. Kevin Love scored an underrated 23, and even J.R. Smith (15 points) and Tristan Thompson (five points, 10 rebounds) got in on the act.
Smith scored a measly three points in the first two Finals games combined. He’s scored 31 in the previous two.
“We wanted to be aggressive and come out swinging,” he said. “We wanted to throw the first punch.”
Kevin Durant again led the Warriors with 35 points — but the Cavs held the Warriors’ dynamic backcourt duo of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to 14 and 13 points, respectively.
Last season, the Cavs were the first team in league history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the Finals. Now, they’re looking to become the first team to overcome 3-0. Not just in the Finals, but in any playoff series anywhere.
“Believeland is not going to give up,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “We’re going to keep fighting, we’re going to keep scrapping.”