With legacies on the line, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving took turns saving the Cavaliers’ season
It was that simple, really, as Cleveland forced a Game 6 with a 112–97 win Monday, carried squarely on the backs of James and Irving, who became the first pair of teammates to score 40 points each in the Finals. Without Draymond Green to roam the paint and kickstart the Warriors’ death lineup, the Cavaliers’ stars feasted, putting up a Finals performance for the history books.
James was sensational, calling back memories of his destruction of Boston in Game 6 of the 2012 East finals. James had the kind of game that 10 years from now, you’ll simply need to say “Game 5” to start a conversation about tonight. James scored 41 to go along with 16 rebounds, momentarily silencing his critics—and the Warriors—with the kind of performance that shows why LeBron is in the conversation as one of the NBA’s all-time greats. James had a vintage night, finding his jumper and attacking the lane with ferocity.
Somehow, Irving may have played better than the two-time Finals MVP, with a hyper-efficient offensive explosion and some clutch shot-making in the fourth quarter. Make no mistake, the Cavaliers didn’t bring some kind of big strategic adjustment to Game 5, but James and Irving cooked in such a way that it didn’t matter. Irving finished with 41 of his own, and every one of his misses was a surprise.
The Warriors missed Green, but that was no excuse for Stephen Curry’s laziness with the ball or Harrison Barnes’s repeated follies from behind the three-point line. Curry failed to make a serious impact in Game 5, continuing to struggle when Tristan Thompson was in the game, making lackadaisical passes and missing most of his threes. Barnes, who played well on the road, could’ve swung the game if he hit a couple of his wide open looks from outside, instead he fired up brick after brick.
Golden State wasted an I-want-that-MVP night from Klay Thompson, who scored 26 in the first half en route to 37 points. The Cavs overcame a useless night from Kevin Love, who was nearly invisible in the biggest game of his life.
Green’s absence greatly benefited the Cavaliers, who could matchup much better with the Warriors on Monday. Golden State struggled offensively when playing a big, then faltered defensively when going small. (Of note—the Warriors were forced to go more small in the second half when Andrew Bogut left with a left knee sprain)
Ultimately, it took two epic performances for Cleveland to force a Game 6. Back on their home floor, the Cavaliers could need a couple more to force a Game 7. It’s going to be fun to watch them try.