OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Big Three has faded. The Terrific Two is gone. And the Cleveland Cavaliers are still heading home with the NBA Finals knotted up at a game apiece.
All thanks to the Chosen One.
LeBron James turned in a triple-double to remember, Matthew Dellavedova made the go-ahead free throws in overtime, and the Cavaliers overcame a fourth-quarter collapse to outlast the Golden State Warriors 95-93 on Sunday night.
James finished with 39 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists in 50 minutes, carrying Cleveland’s depleted roster to victory on the NBA’s toughest home floor. The Warriors, who had been 47-3 at ear-piercing Oracle Arena, had no answer for James or Cleveland’s suddenly stifling defense most of the night.
“I tried to give it all to my teammates. And they do a great job of giving it back to me. Total team effort,” said James, who shot 11 of 34 from the floor and seemed to wear down as the game dragged on. “To be back in the same position we were in three days ago and to come back and even the series is big time.”
It was the second straight overtime game in this scintillating series, and one the Cavs never should’ve let go so far.
Stephen Curry had a horrific shooting performance but converted the tying layup for the Warriors in the final seconds of regulation. The newly minted MVP also put Golden State in front 93-92 on free throws with 29.5 seconds left in overtime.
Then, Draymond Green met James at the rim to block his left-handed layup, but the Cavs retained possession. After James Jones missed a 3-pointer, Dellavedova grabbed the rebound and got fouled.
Dellavedova made both free throws to put Cleveland in front with 10.1 seconds to play. Curry air-balled a jumper contested by Dellavedova, James got the rebound and hit one of two free throws with 4.4 seconds left.
“He was huge for us,” James said about Dellavedova. “We knew we could count on him because we’ve been in this situation before. He gave us everything that he had and more tonight.”
After James’ made the free throw, Curry, without a timeout, raced up court and tried to pass ahead to Klay Thompson. But Iman Shumpert batted the ball away to seal Cleveland’s win.
James waved his arms and pounded his chest near center court. He shook hands and hugged teammates emphatically as most of the sellout crowd 19,596 — wearing those bright, golden yellow shirts — filed out of the arena.
Game 3 is Tuesday night in Cleveland.
“When we defend like we did tonight, we’re going to give ourselves a chance to beat any team in this world,” James said.
It was a pivotal point for the Cavs, who won their first finals game in franchise history. They were swept by the Spurs in their only other appearance in 2007, when James was just growing into the planet’s best player.
Cleveland was staring at a major deficit again. Teams with a 2-0 lead have gone on to win the series 28 of 31 times.
Now that’s one thing the Cavs won’t have to overcome.
James is still left trying to carry Cleveland to its first championship in 51 years after Irving fractured his left kneecap in Game 1. Irving had surgery in Cleveland on Saturday to join sidelined starters Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao, both of whom had already been lost for the season with injuries.
Cavs coach David Blatt went with the same lineup that won Games 2 and 3 of the Eastern Conference finals when Irving was out with an injured knee. He started Dellavedova in Irving’s place, and the scrappy Australian corralled Curry as much as anybody has during his MVP season.
Curry scored 19 points and shot 5 of 23 from the floor, including 2 of 15 from 3-point range. Klay Thompson tried to pick up the backcourt dropoff, scoring 34 points.
But The Warriors went 8 for 35 from long range and shot 39.8 percent overall.
The Cavs, who shot 32.7 percent, outrebounded the Warriors 55 to 45 — but nearly wilted late. James sat for just 52 seconds in the first half and got two quick breaks in the third quarter, seemingly getting more tired as the game dragged on.
He nearly had to stay on the sideline when Green hit him the face as drove hard for a layup in the fourth quarter. James dropped to a knee near the baseline and walked gingerly to the bench, where he sat with his head down before returning to make both free throws.
James seemed to deliver the dagger with a pull-up 3-pointer to extend the Cavs’ lead to 83-72 with 3:13 to play in the fourth quarter. He stopped and turned to Cleveland’s bench, taking out his mouthpiece and staring at the stunned and silent crowd.
But Golden State gave its fervent fans more reason to cheer.
Andre Iguodala and Curry came back with consecutive 3-pointers, with Curry’s shot breaking his scoring drought of more 18 minutes. Curry added two free throws, and Thompson’s layup trimmed Cleveland’s lead to 85-22 with 2:01 left.
After James made both free throws, Harrison Barnes’ dunk over J.R. Smith started a 3-point play to bring the Warriors within two. James missed a desperation 3-pointer before Barnes clanked a jumper.
James, isolated on Iguodala, drove the rim and found Shumpert in the corner. Shumpert air-balled the 3, and Curry raced down court for a dribble-drive that he finished with a tying finger-roll with 7.2 seconds remaining.
Cleveland called timeout, and got James the ball isolated on Iguodala at the top of the key. James drove hard to his left and his layup rimmed out, and Tristan Thompson’s tip missed to send the game to overtime.
Shumpert started overtime with a 3-pointer and James made two free throws to lift Cleveland up 92-87. Green came back with back-to-back baskets for the Warriors.
Both stars traded missed opportunities — Curry turned the ball over and James argued for a foul when the shot-clock expired — before the Cavs came up with another turnover on Green’s errant pass.
Green tied up James to force a jump-ball. James came down with the ball in the circle and was called for a violation — though he thought he was held by Green on the tip. Curry forced a shooting foul on the other end and made both free throws to give Golden State a 93-92 lead with 29.5 seconds left before the Cavs shut them down for good.