LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers made history last year becoming the first team in NBA history to win a championship after being down 3-1 in the Finals. On Friday night, they also set the stage for a chance to make even bigger history: becoming the first team to come back from a 0-3 deficit in the Finals. LeBron and Co. avoided being on the wrong side of history as they kept the Warriors from becoming the first team to ever go 16-0 in the playoffs en route to a championship, beating them 137-116 on the Quicken Loans Arena floor, while making a little history of their own.
The Cavs shot lights out in Game 4, putting up 49 points in the first quarter, 86 points in the first half, and connected on 13 of their 24 three-point makes, in the opening 24 minutes of play, all Finals records. James recorded his ninth triple-double (31 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds) in the Finals, passing Magic Johnson for most all time. It was a night that basketball fans around the world will never forget, and seemingly changed the narrative—if only for a night—that this year’s postseason action lacked any really competition or intrigue.
“We have championship DNA. We showed that tonight,” said LeBron James after the game. “We just kept our composure. We shared the ball, we moved the ball and defensively we were physical. It’s one game.
Yes, it was just one game that kept the Cavaliers season alive, but it was a dominant showing by a team that many had—and still have—written off as being a mere bump in the road on the way to the Warriors inevitable crowning as NBA Champions. James, who has seemed to exhaust himself with his individual greatness, finally got meaningful offensive contributions from his supporting cast.
After dropping 38 points in Game 3, Kyrie Irving had another impressive outing on Friday night as he scored 40 points and dished out 7 assists. Kevin Love, who was a no-show in Game 3, contributed 23 points, but disappeared on the glass, grabbing just five rebounds in the game. J.R. Smith, who was invisible in the first two games, picked up where he left off in Game 3, scoring 15 points (all three-pointers) on Friday night.
The Cavaliers played like a team whose backs were against the wall and knew there was no tomorrow. That’s the kind of effort and performance you like to see when everything is on the line, and it sends a strong message to the Warriors that the Finals aren’t over and the Cavaliers, when locked in like they were in Game 4, can compete with anybody.
“Believeland is not going to give up,” said head coach Tyronn Lue. “We’re going to keep fighting. We’re going to keep scrapping.”
“That first quarter, they came out and hit us with that amazing punch,” Kevin Durant said. “You got to give them credit, they played extremely well tonight.”
Part of Cleveland’s motivation not to get swept out of the playoffs may have come from Warriors forward Draymond Green. The fiery and emotional All-Star who is known to talk trash and try and get into the opponent’s head, made a comment that Golden State wanted to celebrate their title on the Cavs home floor again.
“I didn’t hear it, but some of the other guys heard it,” James said when asked about Green’s statement. “They wanted to celebrate on our floor once again and they wanted to spray champagne in our locker rooms. So, I just told guys, I didn’t stress anything besides just live in the moment.”
For the Warriors, now it’s their turn to keep things in perspective. Going into Game 4, and being up 3-0 in the series, it’s obvious they wanted to sweep the Cavaliers and get their summer as champions started early. But it was not to be and you have to think the sting of being in this same position a year ago and being unable to seal the deal is what’s at the front of their minds now.
Steph Curry, who scored just 14 points in Game 3 and couldn’t seem to get his offense going, like James, echoed the ‘it’s just one game’ perspective, while understanding that if his team is going to close this series out, he’s going to need to play like he did in the first three games.
“Just one of those games,” Curry said of his performance. “Not going to overreact to one. Obviously, I can play better and want to play better and will play better.”
While Game 4 was certainly a treat for fans who love offense, it was also enjoyable for those who like the physical nature of basketball as well. Both teams understood the gravity of the moment and tried hard to give maximum effort and leave it all on the floor, but that didn’t come without a fair amount of controversy and tense moments.
In the first half, Draymond Green was assessed a loose ball and technical foul for elbowing Iman Shumpert. In the second half, Green was given another technical foul—which should have been an ejection—but referees John Goble and Marc Davis clarified that the first half technical actually should have been on Steve Kerr, instead of Green, and was recorded incorrectly. This created a fair amount of confusion, but the referees took full responsibility for the error.
Shumpert was also involved in another situation with Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, who seemed to take exception to the Cavs guard standing over him as both teams were scrapping for a loose ball, and punched him in the groin. It was eerily similar to the incident between Green and James in last year’s Finals that got Green suspended for Game 5, and ultimately changed the momentum and outcome of that series.
Both Pachulia and Shumpert were assessed double technical fouls on the play, but you have to think the League will review that play since a clear, intentional punch was thrown in that sequence. A fan was ejected from the arena after saying some words in the direction of the Warriors’ bench over the Shumpert and Pachulia incident, and LeBron James and Kevin Durant did a little jawing of their own back and forth, capping off a night that was both intense and full of emotion on both sides.
“We weren’t coming to blows, we were just talking,” said Durant. “That’s a part of basketball. The game of basketball created that. The refs didn’t… I’m sure it’s going to continue. There’s nothing malicious, or we didn’t say anything malicious, it was just a part of the game. Emotions are what keeps this game alive, it keeps it going. It’s for the players.”
Taking Durant’s words into context, Game 5 on Monday night is one that is sure to be as epic as Game 4 on Friday night.