CLEVELAND - LeBron James began the night by bowing to Cleveland royalty Jim Brown seated courtside and ended it by moving one step closer to carving out his own legacy in this town.
James scored 40 points and led an emotionally charged Cavaliers' team to a 96-91 victory over the Warriors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals in front of a loud and raucous crowd at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Cavaliers lead the series 2-1 and can put a lock on the best-of-seven series if they can protect home court again tomorrow night.
The Warriors once again looked nothing like the team that ran through the NBA and won 67 games. NBA MVP Steph Curry finished with 27 points, but he had an uneven game and committed three costly turnovers in the final two minutes.
The Cavaliers led this game by 20 points in the third, 17 to start the fourth and were up nine with 51 seconds to go. But Curry got hot late and hit back-to-back three-pointers that cut it to 94-91 with 18.9 seconds left.
Cleveland appeared to turn the ball over on the ensuing inbounds, but after it was reviewed the call was overturned because Klay Thompson's foot was out of bounds. The Cavaliers got the ball back, inbounded to James and he hit both free throws with 16.8 seconds left.
James was 14-for-34, and finished with 12 rebounds and eight assists. Unheralded point guard Matthew Dellavedova had another impressive game. He scored 20 points, had five rebounds and four assists.
James isn't only the best basketball player on the planet, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he's the best athlete as well.
"Can you find another one?" Kerr said. "Maybe American Pharoah? He's arguably the best athlete that any of us have ever seen in terms of size and speed and strength. He's a force."
All of that was on display Tuesday night, and especially in the third quarter. James accounted for 24 of the Cavaliers 28 points in the quarter. He scored 13 and assisted on three three-pointers and a dunk in the third, pushing the Cavs to a 20-point lead.
But the Warriors got a big lift from former Knick David Lee, making his first appearance in the series. Lee, who was 4-for-4 with 11 points and four rebounds in 13 minutes, helped spark a 15-3 run to start the fourth that put the Warriors back in the game.
After a Curry layup with 5:40 left, the Cavaliers' lead was down to 79-76 and you could feel the nervousness in the arena. Curry had a chance to tie it but misfired on a three. The Cavaliers went up 81-76 after James threw down a Dellavedova lob in transition with 4:10 to go.
But the Cavaliers had back-to-back bad offensive possessions and the Warriors trimmed it to 81-80 on a Curry with 2:45 left. In need of a huge play, the Cavs got one from Dellavedova.
Coming around a screen, Dellavedova was fouled and he just flung the ball up and the shot went in. He completed the three-point play with 2:27 remaining.
Then after an ill-conceived behind-the-back pass by Curry went out of bounds, James buried a three-pointer to put Cleveland up 87-80 with 1:44 to go.
After a Tristan Thompson foul shot, Curry knocked down a three-pointer with 1:24 left to make it 88-83. Following a James' miss, Curry raced the ball up court but James slapped it away from behind and Dellavedova chased down the loose ball. He was fouled and made both free throws.
Following a timeout, James stole Curry's inbounds pass and hit two foul shots for a 92-83 lead with 51 seconds left.
After shooting 5-for-23 in Game 2, Curry got off to a bad start again. He made his first shot of the game, and then missed his last five of the first half. Curry also looked unsure of himself, and made some bad decisions.
Curry finished the half with three points, two fewer than Dellavedova and the Cavaliers led 44-37. Their advantage seemed much larger because of how loud the crowd was and how much energy the Cavaliers were exerting.
The Warriors missed several easy shots inside, but the Cavaliers' defense also stymied the NBA's best offense. Thompson scored a record 37 points in one quarter this season, and that's all the Warriors could muster in the first half.
Curry finally ended his scoring drought with 6:22 remaining in the third quarter. But by then the Cavaliers already had built a double-digit lead.
James and Dellavedova combined to score the Cavaliers' first 19 points of the third quarter. Then James fed J.R Smith for a three-pointer and Timofey Mozgov for a dunk that put Cleveland up 68-48 with 2:52 remaining.
The Cavaliers took a 72-55 lead into the fourth quarter after the third ended with Curry's layup waved off because he didn't shoot it before the buzzer sounded.