OAKLAND, CA. — The Warriors may have been upset with LeBron James for his role in Draymond Green being suspended. But their players and family members made a big mistake in a closeout game: They angered the best all-around player in the NBA.
James showed it’s not wise to tug on Superman’s cape in what could be a defining moment in a career marked by greatness but littered with many more losses on the big stage than wins. But James, with a big assist from Kyrie Irving, led his team to an enormous victory Monday night, keeping the Cavaliers alive in the NBA Finals.
Facing elimination and perhaps more criticism than ever if Cleveland lost, James had 41 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists in the Cavaliers’ 112-97 Game 5 victory over the Warriors at Oracle Arena. Golden State leads the series 3-2, but the scene shifts to Cleveland for Game 6 Thursday.
Irving finished with 41 points, 12 of them coming in the fourth quarter. He scored 10 consecutive points for the Cavaliers during one stretch, including a three-pointer that gave Cleveland a 109-96 lead with 5:33 left. It stayed that way until a James’ three-point play with 3:22 left gave the Cavaliers a 16-point cushion.
No team has come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals and won the title. Thirty-two teams have tried and failed. The Warriors will have Green back for Game 6, but may be without starting center Andrew Bogut, who left in the third quarter with a sprained left knee.
Klay Thompson led Cleveland with 37 points and Steph Curry had 25. But it was obvious the Warriors missed Green on both ends of the floor. They couldn’t stop the Cavaliers, and their offense sputtered after the score was tied at 61 at the half.
Golden State shot 12-for-45 after halftime and scored just 36 points. The high-powered Warriors didn’t make a shot over the last 7:09 and had just one point in that time.
The spotlight was squarely on James to see how he would respond to all the criticism he received from Warriors’ players, their family members and his peers as a result of Green’s suspension. He quieted everyone, even all the Warriors’ fans that booed him for most of the night.
In the heat of the moment late in Game 4, James knocked Green down and then stepped over him. Green flailed his arms when he was getting up and hit James in the groin.
The league reviewed the heated exchange between Green and James in Game 4, and assessed Green a Flagrant Foul 1. It resulted in an automatic one-game ban since Green had accrued four flagrant foul points this postseason.
Green wasn’t allowed in the building for the game. He watched it from a suite at the A’s game in the Stadium next door to Oracle Arena. Fans chanted “Free Dray-mond” during the game. Last year’s Finals MVP Andre Iguodala started in Green’s place.
James, who didn’t like what Green said to him, got angry and needed to be restrained. He urged the NBA to review the play during his postgame news conference.
The Warriors said James provoked Green by walking over him. Klay Thompson said James “feelings just got hurt” by Green’s words. Marreese Speights tweeted a picture of a baby’s bottle.
Ex-NBA player Mychal Thompson, Klay’s dad, said James “acts too entitled” and he couldn’t believe he “complains to the media about being called a name.” Ayesha Curry, Steph Curry’s wife, took a swipe at James on twitter. Other NBA players tweeted James disrespected Green by stepping over him.
The Cavaliers weathered a shaky start that included five turnovers in the first four minutes, and withstood a shooting exhibition by Thompson, who scored 26 points in the first half.
But James and the Cavaliers were all business. James attacked the basket, and hit his outside shot, and Irving played the perfect sidekick.
James and Irving combined to score 18 of the Cavs’ first 19 points of the third quarter. Cleveland went ahead 85-75 after a Richard Jefferson drive with 4:15 left in the quarter.
After their next basket made it an eight-point game, the Warriors resorted to intentionally fouling Tristan Thompson. But it didn’t help. The Warriors trailed 93-84 heading to the fourth, and never got closer than six.