CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 41 points, Kyrie Irving added 23 and the Cleveland Cavaliers sent the NBA Finals packing for California by beating the rattled Golden State Warriors 115-101 on Thursday night to even this unpredictable series and force a decisive Game 7.
LeBron James was unstoppable, dominating play at both ends and finishing with 41 points for the second consecutive game. Tristan Thompson made all six of his shots and finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds for Cleveland — which outrebounded the Warriors 45-35, taking some advantage of Andrew Bogut’s season-ending knee injury suffered in Game 5.
Golden State never led, faced their largest end-of-first-quarter deficit of the entire season and now will have an unimaginable amount of pressure when Sunday night’s winner-take-all game rolls gets played at Oracle Arena.
James delivered another epic performance in an elimination game and the Cavs saved their season for the second time in four days and are headed back to Oakland’s Oracle Arena for Sunday’s climactic game on the brink of history.
One more win and they’ll become the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, and more importantly, give title-starved Cleveland its first major sports championship since Dec. 27, 1964.
For all that went wrong, and much did, the outcome was in some doubt in the final minutes.
Golden State trailed 31-9 late in the first quarter before getting within eight points later in the half, then trailed by 24 in the third quarter and eventually cut that deficit down to 86-79 early in the fourth.
To their credit, the Warriors managed to make it interesting on a night when very little went right.
That might have been the only consolation.
The Warriors never imagined being in this spot. The defending champions, who powered their way to a record 73 wins in the regular season, won the first two games by 48 combined points. But MVP Stephen Curry and Co. have lost their touch, their poise and are in danger of their historic season — and a second title — vanish.
Curry was ejected from Game 6 with 4:22 left after he was called for his sixth personal foul, cursed at an official and fired his mouthpiece into the front row, striking a fan. Curry finished with 30 points, Klay Thompson had 25 and Draymond Green, back from a one-game suspension, had 10 rebounds.
Green was a nonfactor, Harrison Barnes couldn’t make a shot and Andre Iguodala’s back was so balky that he often winced when he moved and needed treatment multiple times during the game.
On Wednesday, James called Game 7, “the two best words ever.”
He’ll live them once more, thanks to his spell-binding effort — he had a hand in 27 consecutive points in the second half — and put away the Warriors after they closed a 24-point deficit to seven in the final period. James scored 14 points in the fourth before checking out to a thunderous ovation in the final minutes as Cleveland fans chanted, “Cavs in 7!” and “See you Sunday!”
Ayesha Curry was angry about getting into Game 6 of the NBA Finals later than she planned. Her husband was steaming when he left the game earlier than he wanted.
“I’ve lost all respect sorry this is absolutely rigged for money… Or ratings in not sure which,” Ayesha Curry tweeted just before the final buzzer. “I won’t be silent . Just saw it live sry.”
She quickly deleted the tweet.
She’ll see another game live on Sunday night.
A tough night for the Curry family.
A tougher night for the Golden State Warriors.
Game 7 is at Oracle Arena on Sunday night. Tip-off is at 8 p.m.
The Warriors haven’t lost three straight all season. No team in NBA Finals history has ever blown a 3-1 lead. And Golden State better hope both of those things still ring true after the 1,316th and final game of the season, or else their record-setting 73-win regular season will be overshadowed by the memory of not being able to take home the biggest prize.