CLEVELAND – Folding would have been easy. Down three games to none, attempting to do what no team in NBA Finals history has done against perhaps the best team ever to play, the Cavaliers simply could have gone through the motions, and gone home. Instead, Cleveland ground out a 137-116 Game 4 win, extending the series to a fifth game.
If the Cavaliers were demoralized after a loss in Game 3, it wasn’t evident. J.R. Smith opened the game with a three and hit another minutes later. Kyrie Irving had a quick five points, forcing Steve Kerr to call a timeout less than three minutes in, with his team trailing 14-5.
“We wanted to be aggressive and come out swinging,” J.R. Smith said. “We wanted to throw the first punch.”
Cleveland continued to pour it on in the first, finishing the quarter with 49 points, a Finals record. Golden State’s defense was non-existent; the Cavs scored on 23 of their 28 first-quarter possessions. Draymond Green appeared to pick up a technical foul for arguing a call, and the Warriors’ prolific 3-point shooters, who accounted for nine threes in the first quarter of Game 3, chipped in just three in the first in Game 4.
By the end of the first, Cleveland held an astonishing 49-33 lead.
“They brought a level of physicality that we did not match,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We have to do a better job of that.”
The Cavaliers’ offense continued to hum in the second. Irving, fresh off a 38-point performance in Game 3, picked up right where he left off, scoring 28 first-half points. Irving was relentless, making 11 of his 14 first-half attempts, including four of six threes.
As a team the Cavs shot 60.9 percent from the floor in the first half, 59.1 percent from three, and went into the locker room with a 86-68 lead, a Finals record for points by one team in a half.
Like they have all series, Golden State kept coming. Kevin Durant came alive early in the third, scoring nine of his 35 points. After a sluggish first half, Stephen Curry added eight. The quarter was highlighted by a bizarre moment involving Green. With 6:18 to play, Green was whistled for a technical foul. It was announced as his second and an ejection. Unknown to the scorers’ table, the first-half technical believed to be charged to Green was given to Kerr, allowing Green to stay in the game.
“I thought they called it on Draymond,” Kerr said. “I thought I deserved it. But I thought I heard the
announcer say, the PA announcer say, that it was on Draymond. So then I thought the second one Draymond was going to get kicked out, but they explained that the first one was on me.”
Added Green: “Yeah, thank God I get to play on Monday. Hopefully.”
Credit Cleveland: When Golden State made a run, it answered, and eventually finished the game with an NBA Finals-record 24 3-pointers. With Irving on the bench, the Cavs got five key points from Deron Williams, and Kyle Korver added a three of his own. At the end of the third, Cleveland held a solid 115-96 lead.
“Every game is do or die, and we understand that,” Irving said. “We’re ready to live in it. And it was great to see Kyle, as well as Deron, as well as T-Thomp just throw themselves in tonight’s game and understand the importance of it.”
The Warriors surged early in the fourth, scoring six quick points to cut the lead to 13. With LeBron James on the bench, the Cavs’ offense stalled; an Irving three just under three minutes into the fourth was the team’s first bucket.
Golden State though, couldn’t take advantage. The Warriors made just two 3-pointers in the final quarter, and connected on just 4-of-16 shots before Kerr emptied the bench with two minutes to play. Klay Thompson (13 points) struggled to find a rhythm while Curry (14 points) played his first subpar game of the series as the Warriors lost their chance at a perfect 16-0 postseason.
“It’s gone,” Klay Thompson said. “It’s over with. Sixteen and one sounds pretty damn good anyway. Forget about that undefeated talk or whatever. It’s time to put on a show for our fans in Oakland and the rest of the Bay. Try to close out at Oracle.”
James had a triple-double with 31 points (three 3-pointers), 11 assists and 10 rebounds, Irving finished with 40 points (seven 3-pointers), seven rebounds and four assists, and Kevin Love had 23 points (six 3-pointers).
As the final seconds ticked off, a “Cavs in seven” chant echoed from the crowd. Improbable, but not impossible, with Cleveland surviving to play another day.
“Getting swept is something that you never want to have happen,” James said. “Especially this point. You get all the way to the Finals, you hate to get swept, lose two games on your home floor. So I think a lot of guys had that in their mind today, and they came out and played like it.”