With their backs against the wall, the Cleveland Cavaliers delivered their most clutch performance of the season Monday night, beating Golden State, 112-97, at ORACLE to force a Game 6 in Cleveland on Thursday.
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving went off for 41 points apiece, becoming the first pair of teammates to ever score 40+ points in the same Finals game.
“Well, I think there’s no doubt that not having Draymond Green on the floor changed the rotations and the way that the Warriors defended them,” NBA.com writer Sekou Smith said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “You saw how many great looks that LeBron and Kyrie got and knocked down. They had to make shots.”
They did. James and Irving combined to shoot 33-of-54 (61.1 percent) from the floor, including 9-of-15 (60 percent) from three. They scored or assisted on 97 points; Golden State scored 97 as a team.
“(That’s) pretty amazing.” Smith said. “I think, really, it was just about the desperation that those two guys in particular played with. They played like two guys who refused to let their season end tonight in a hostile environment. I tweeted out during the game: As great as Kyrie was, LeBron was on another planet. He hasn’t shot like this from outside throughout the entire playoffs. He hasn’t been knocking down his jump shots the way he was tonight. He was unbelievable. I don’t even know that it was a throwback performance or something that we’ve seen before because he was just so relaxed and so in the moment. I’ve seen a lot over the years covering the NBA. I’ve never seen a night when two guys had it going the way he and Kyrie did tonight.”
Conventional wisdom says Cleveland has a solid chance of defending its home court and forcing a Game 7. Conventional wisdom also says, however, that the Cavs can’t beat the Warriors two more times with James and Irving carrying such a heavy burden.
“I don’t think you can do it with just two guys,” Smith said. “Tristan Thompson was fantastic rebounding and being active in the paint, but it’s stunning to me that they were able to do that and get so little from their third guy, Kevin Love.”
Love scored just two points on five shots and had three rebounds in 33 minutes in Game 5.
“I think Tyronn Lue is trying to keep him engaged as best he can in this series when it’s clear that Love has just not been effective,” Smith said. “He hasn’t been an impact player. He had 17 points and 13 rebounds in Game 2, and it was negated because Draymond totally outplayed him. I think you have to look at this long term after the series no matter what happens. How effective can you be as a team with Kevin Love as your third option? If this is all you’re going to get from him on this stage, you clearly can’t keep him around long-term. It just won’t make sense.”