After LeBron James had gone off for 41 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and three blocks in Game 5, he left everyone wanting more. It was Cleveland’s second consecutive do-or-die game, and this came on the anniversary of Golden State clinching last year’s Finals in its sixth game.
Harnessing the energy of their rowdy home crowd, the Cavaliers jumped out on the Warriors in a hurry and dumped 31 points on the Dubs in the first quarter. James came out and quickly asserted himself, bucketing nine points on 4/5 shooting, dishing out four assists, connecting with Tristan Thompson on a bevy of alley-oops, and even picked off two steals in the process. The Warriors were without Andrew Bogut, who was out with a knee injury and, despite not playing much, would’ve been huge for setting the defensive tone in the first quarter. Cleveland was able to shoot 57 percent on 12/21 shooting, including a staggering 10/14 on two-point attempts.
The officials were quick with the whistle–for both teams–in the first, and both Kevin Love and Stephen Curry were in foul trouble early; Love picked up two fouls in 1:30 while Curry took 6:09 to get his two. Some of the fouls called could be seen as ticky-tack, but they were dumb fouls on the part of the players. Regardless, shooting less than 23 percent from the field is where the problem lied. The Dubs put up just 11 points and were horribly sloppy with the basketball, and committed four turnovers. Curry was just 1/3 from the field to lead his team with three points, and Klay Thompson had a rough start shooting 1/5.
After spending time on the bench, Chef came back in and lit up the scoreboard. All six of his attempts in the second quarter were threes; he drained three and was 6/6 from the free throw line to bring his total to 15 points. Golden State put up 32 points despite shooting 36 percent from the field with some help from the officials. To give the refs credit, they were consistent on both ends. The Warriors forced the Cavs into nine fouls and went 12/13 from the stripe while Cleveland went 10/11 from the line thanks to eight Golden State fouls. Irving looked like he was taking his matchup against Curry personal, and went for 13 points himself, taking it at Steph every chance he got. His aggression was tough to contain, and the Warriors couldn’t help but put him on the line for six shots.
The King was rather quiet, tallying just five points and two assists, and was even whistled for two fouls. Shockingly, that wasn’t the oddest thing to happen in the period. Dahntay Jones, who hadn’t played meaningful minutes all postseason, was called upon by coach Tyronn Lue. And he was effective. In just 2:18, Jones had five points, including an and-one, one rebound, a block, and forced Draymond Green to foul him. After a 28-point quarter from the Cavs, their lead had been widdled down to 16, and the score was 59-43 entering the half.
It began to look very shaky in Cleveland out of the intermission. In the blink of an eye (as he usually does) Klay Thompson came alive and exploded for 15 points on 6/8 shooting in the third. After a relatively quiet half, Green got busy on the boards and pulled down five, and facilitated the offense en route to four assists. Curry looked somewhat out of rhythm with his shot and was unable to hold onto the ball. Golden State put up 28 points with seven of them coming from Steph, but his three turnovers accounted for the team’s total. Fortunately, Cleveland got just two points off of them. The Cavs offense got stagnant, and they shot just 35 percent with 21 points. J.R. Smith and Irving struggled mightily, combining for 2/8 from the field with five points. LeBron was the most efficient piece for the Cavaliers, and he put up ten on four-of-eight shooting with three rebounds.
Heading into the final quarter, Cleveland’s lead had been trimmed to nine, 80-71.
To put it bluntly: the four-time MVP out-MVPed the reigning two-time MVP in the fourth quarter. Golden State, not the Cavs, had the momentum going into the fourth quarter after finishing the third on a 10-0 run. James felt the pressure of being sent home for the second year in a row on his homecourt and answered magically–17 points on 6/9 shooting, four assists, three boards, two blocks (one on Curry late in the quarter where he gave him the most menacing stare down), and one steal. Everything was working for him, including his perimeter jump shot which was huge.
LeBron blocks Stephen Curry, and lets him know pic.twitter.com/UriDPukAEs
— Kenny Ducey (@KennyDucey) June 17, 2016
His performance, as awe-inspiring as it was, was still not the talk of the town afterward. It was Curry, who picked up his last two fouls before fouling out and getting ejected. The fifth came on a reach-in attempt on Kyrie Irving and, although it was questionable, it begs this question: why are you gambling on defense when your team is down 11 in a Finals game? It was silly on Curry’s part. I understand the clocks ticking, and you need some quick buckets, but it was early in the quarter, and the Warriors had a bunch of time to make up ground. Talking about the foul, Kyrie was clearly hit across the chest, although it was very tough to see in real-time. Regardless, I refer to the question I asked above.
The frustration was clearly building up, as Curry was just 2/6 from the field. After a missed shot, Thompson threw an outlet pass to LeBron, which Curry tried to intercept. There was some contact, Curry was called for his sixth foul, and was ejected from the game after flinging his mouthpiece at a fan (fortunately, there’s no suspension for this. Just a fine). Steve Kerr came out very boldly and said that LeBron “flopped” on that play, but he also picked apart their defense all night long. So, yeah, there’s that.
Coach Kerr addressing the Refs as well as Steph Curry's ejection. https://t.co/dPMlRT9tPQ
— NBA TV (@NBATV) June 17, 2016
The sixth foul occurred with 4:22 left to play with Golden State trailing by 12. They were still in the game and, regardless if the call was questionable or not, Curry has no business gambling in the backcourt.
He’s too valuable to the team to be making silly mistakes like that. Moreover, he was the only player on that team to be having consistent offensive success. It actually extends even further than Steph because the Warriors have the firepower to erase any lead very quickly. With the sharpshooters they have, they can cut down a 12-point deficit in less than two minutes. They’ve done before.
Once the smoke cleared, LeBron put up another superhuman stat line: 41 points on 16/27 shooting, 11 rebounds, eight assists, four steals, three blocks.
Kyrie Irving also had a good outing with 23 points, and Tristan Thompson was a beast on the boards and pulled down 16 to go along with 15 points.
Curry had another good bad game with 30 on 8/20 from the field and 6/13 from three, and Klay Thompson had 25 but on just 9/21 from the field.
Game 7 is this Sunday at 8:00 PM EST in Oakland and we will witness one of two incredible feats: Golden State repeats after nearly squandering a 3-1 lead, or Cleveland will become the first team to ever climb back from a 3-1 Finals deficit.