LeBron James scored 40 points and gritty Matthew Dellavedova added 20 to lead Cleveland over Golden State 96-91 Tuesday and move the Cavaliers halfway to capturing the NBA Finals.
Cleveland took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven championship series, which continues with game four Thursday in Cleveland. Teams that win game three after splitting the first two take the NBA Finals 84 percent of the time.
The Cavaliers, who have won 27 of their past 29 home games, seek Cleveland’s first crown in any sport since the 1964 NFL Browns, the longest such US title drought, while the Warriors seek their first title since 1975.
James, who added 12 rebounds and eight assists, powered the Cavaliers to a 20-point lead in the third quarter but Steph Curry, who finished with 27 points, led a furious rally that pulled the Warriors within a point late only to fall short thanks to clutch baskets from James and Australian Dellavedova.
James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player in his fifth consecutive finals, has 123 points, the most points ever by any player through the first three NBA Finals games.
“I don’t know if I can continue to produce these kind of numbers, but I’ll keep doing whatever this team needs,” James said.
The Warriors, who never led, had an NBA-best seven wins this season after trailing by 15 or more points, but this would not be one of them.
A Curry 3-pointer pulled Golden State within 88-83 but Dellavedova and James each added two free throws. David Lee tipped in a Curry miss but Curry added a 3-pointer to lift Golden State within 92-88 with 27 seconds to play.
James followed with two more free throws but Curry again sank a 3-pointer to make it 94-91. James responded with two more free throws and the Cavaliers held on for the triumph.
“That last minute and a half, we’ve got a lot to learn from,” James said.
Curry had only two points until late in the third quarter but scored 17 in the fourth after being silenced most of the night.
“We were trying to make it tough on them,” James said. “(Curry) is a great shooter and we’ve got to contain him.”
Dellavedova had 10 of his 20 points in the third quarter and a key late 3-point play.
“He’s made of steel,” James said of Dellavedova. “He was huge for us. He gives us that grit we need until the tank is empty.”
Dellavedova scored eight points in a 10-5 Cleveland run for a 56-46 lead and soon after the Cavaliers scored 12 consecutive points for their largest edge at 68-48, James starting the run with a 3-pointer and turnaround jumper and matching his first-half total with 13 points in the quarter.
“We were just making things hard, making every shot a contested one, making them work,” Cavaliers coach Dave Blatt said.
But Curry finally found his shooting touch and 3-pointers by Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala ignited a 25-9 Warriors run that cut Cleveland’s lead to 77-73 with 7:24 remaining.
Curry sank a 3-pointer with pull Golden State within 81-80 with 2:45 to play after trailing by 20, but Dellavedova answered with a 3-point play, banking in a shot off the backboard while stumbling and being fouled by Curry, and James followed with a 3-pointer to put Cleveland ahead 87-80 with 1:40 remaining.
James Jones sank a 3-pointer with 0.9 of a second remaining in the second quarter to give the Cavaliers a 44-37 half-time lead. Cleveland’s swarming defense kept the NBA’s top-scoring team to its lowest first-half point total of the season. The Warriors made only 15-of-44 first half shots, their starters only 6-of-27.
James was only 6-of-17 from the floor in the first half but led all scorers with 13 points while NBA 2015 Most Valuable Player Steph Curry was 1-of-6 for only three points in the span, hitting only the Warriors’ first basket of the game and outscored by five Cleveland players in the first half.
The Cavaliers, who lost star forward Kevin Love to a separated left shoulder in the opening round of the playoffs and star guard Kyrie Irving in the Finals opener to a fractured left kneecap, had another injury scare when guard Iman Shumpert suffered an early left shoulder injury when hit by a screening Draymond Green. But he returned and played 32 minutes in all. – Agence France-Presse