- Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
The Cleveland Cavaliers staved off elimination Monday night with a 112-97 win over the Golden State Warriors, forcing a Game 6 in the NBA Finals.
While the Warriors were without Draymond Green, perhaps their most important cog on offense and defense, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving delivered all-time great performances to keep the Cavaliers alive.
Irving and James combined for 82 points, becoming the first teammates to each score at least 40 points in the same Finals game. James also contributed a monster stat line with 16 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and three blocks.
And while both players carried the Cavs throughout the game, matching a red-hot Klay Thompson basket-for-basket in the first half, in the second half the Cavs handed James and Irving the keys and got out of the way.
Perhaps the most stunning aspect of the two players’ Game 5 performance is how they dominated in the second half. In the final 24 minutes, with the season on the line, James and Irving scored or assisted on every Cavs basket, save for a few free throws from Tristan Thompson, whom the Warriors were intentionally fouling.
Every basket came by way of James and Irving’s work. For the game, Irving and James had 33 of the Cavs’ 44 made field goals and 13 of their 15 assists. Those numbers were even more glaring in the second half, when they combined for 15 of the Cavs’ 19 baskets and had eight of their nine assists.
Irving and James later credited Cleveland’s coaches for designing a winning game plan, but that overstates what Cleveland did on offense in the second half. The Cavaliers often gave Irving or LeBron the ball and let them go to work, either in isolation or on pick-and-rolls.
Despite several good defensive possessions by the Warriors, the Cavaliers beat them with the pure talents of James and Irving. The Warriors’ defenders would hang on their drives, only for Irving and James to find holes at the last second, and many of their shots were contested.
Sometimes, talent just beats scheme. James took over for large stretches of the third quarter.
Then Irving carried the Cavs down the stretch, hitting shots from seemingly impossible angles.
The Cavaliers may have caught lightning in a bottle. Irving acknowledged after the game that 41 points on 71% shooting may not be sustainable.
“Mind you, to repeat a performance like this would definitely be tough, but whatever it takes to win,” Irving said.
James added: “At this point, it’s whatever it takes. Obviously making shots and things of that nature are something that you sometimes really can’t control. Sometimes the ball go in – sometimes it don’t. How hard you play, how locked in you are on the keys to get a victory, what the coaching staff put out for us.”
The Warriors may have faith that with their full lineup they can beat the Cavs in Cleveland, particularly if Cleveland continues to rely solely on the talent of Irving and James. Yet the Warriors also have to be wary now. Irving and James are hot, returning home, where they’ll play with more confidence, and a Cavs team that looked finished a couple of days ago may still have life.