Cleveland (AFP) – LeBron James scored 32 points and Kyrie Irving added 30, powering Cleveland over defending champion Golden State 120-90 to lift the Cavaliers back into contention in the NBA Finals.
Despite Wednesday’s blowout loss, the Warriors remain ahead 2-1 in the best-of-seven series with game four on Friday at Cleveland and game five back in Oakland Monday.
“We’ve got to have the same effort on Friday,” James said.
Only three teams in 69 prior NBA Finals have rallied from 2-0 down to win the title, but no team trailing 3-0 has ever won an NBA playoff series.
Playing a crucial game without forward Kevin Love, sidelined by a concussion suffered in game two Sunday, the Cavaliers were more physical and aggressive than before, taking full advantage of greater mobility by shifting James to power forward.
“I never got deterred,” James said. “I was able to get to the rim and I never stopped working.”
Four-time NBA Most Valuable Player James, in his sixth consecutive finals, added 11 rebounds and six assists while Irving, who only had 10 points in game two, hit 16 in the opening quarter, had eight assists and the Cavaliers used smothering defense to ignite a fast-paced attack.
“It started defensively,” James said. “We started playing our game finally. We still can be better.”
J.R. Smith added 20 points while Tristan Thompson contributed 14 points and 13 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who improved to 8-0 at home in the playoffs and snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Warriors.
NBA Most Valuable Player and season scoring leader Stephen Curry managed only two points in the first half and finished with 19 while Harrison Barnes added 18 points and Klay Thompson contributed 10. Top scorers Curry and Thompson were a combined 10-for-26 shooting from the floor.
Golden State, which won a record 73 games this season, lost the third game of a playoff series for the fifth consecutive time, falling to 3-5 on the road in this year’s playoffs.
Cleveland has not celebrated a team sports champion since the 1964 NFL Browns.
The Cavaliers led 51-43 entering the second half despite shooting only 6-of-27 from the floor in the second quarter as the Warriors went only 2-of-14 from 3-point range. Curry went only 1-of-5 while James started 4-of-4 before missing nine of his next 10 shots.
The Cavaliers began the third quarter with a 19-5 run, James scoring eight points to power Cleveland to a 70-48 advantage and the Cavs owned a 89-69 edge entering the fourth quarter and pulled away to the end, never trailing on the night.
Irving, who managed only 10 points in game two, sizzled early, hitting 7-of-9 shots from the floor in the period to spark the Cavaliers to a 33-13 lead.
Barnes powered a Warriors rally by scoring 10 points in a 14-3 run that pulled Golden State within 36-27.
Thompson was 0-for-5 before being kneed in the left thigh by Cleveland’s Timofey Mozgov in the first quarter. He went to the locker room, donned shorts with a thigh pad and returned.
Cleveland scored the first nine points and jumped ahead 19-4, James netting eight points and Richard Jefferson five in the run.
The Warriors’ nightmare start included shooting 2-for-11 from the floor, missing their first seven 3-point tries, and four turnovers.