The Cavaliers did, just like they did in last year’s finals, thanks to Kyrie Irving’s turnaround jumper with seconds left. It was a beautiful shot that completed a 14-point fourth-quarter comeback against Golden State, and Kevin Durant was knocked down (or tripped) on the Warriors’ final chance leading to his last-second attempt being way off. Cleveland took it 109-108 in the Christmas headliner.
This game doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of it all, when you consider these teams are the overwhelming favorites to meet in the finals this summer for an unprecedented third time. This is just a regular season game, and both teams know that’s not what they’re playing for. But damn, this is just so much fun. NBA basketball doesn’t get better than this.
The Warriors didn’t hit a three-pointer in the first quarter despite seven attempts for the first time all season, and Draymond Green barely played with two early fouls, but Golden State still led 27-25 after one. It looked like the Warriors were pulling away for a moment, and Stephen Curry’s first made shot of the game — a three with 4:15 left in the half — put Golden State up 49-38.
Cleveland came right back, though, tying the game at 50 with about a minute by rattling off 10 straight points. James had a season-high nine rebounds in the first half, and he ended the half with a ridiculous layup and absurd full-court chasedown block on Zaza Pachulia.
The Warriors looked like they might pull away in the second half, too. After Kevin Durant hit a technical free throw, Golden State led 95-82 with 9:19 left in the game. Despite the Warriors’ 13-point lead, Cleveland steadily marched right back into the game. Irving tied it with a layup with a little more than two minutes left, and after the Warriors went back ahead by a point, he won it.
The Cavaliers can do this
They won in last year’s finals. They have the NBA’s best player, and James showed that even when on innocent cross-court passes that weren’t even noted by the announcers. When you have LeBron, you have a chance to win. It’s that simple.
But that’s not an attempt to drag down his teammates, who were sensational on Sunday and crucial to whether the Cavaliers will have a chance to repeat this July. Kyrie Irving put up 25 points, including those two huge shots in the final minutes that tied and then won the game. Kevin Love scored 20 points and was a team-best plus-20, emphasizing that he finally looks like his Minnesota self again.
Cleveland is one of the two best teams in the NBA. We can’t wait for July.
What Kevin Durant changes for Golden State
We know Kevin Durant is one of the best offensive players we’ve ever seen in the NBA, and his addition to Golden State makes that much harder to defend. But what is still being underrated is how much defense he adds back after Golden State lost Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes this offseason.
You see the 109 points up by Cleveland, and you understandably might complain that we shouldn’t be talking about defense at all after this game. But a lot of that was directly caused by the hellishly quick pace, and the Warriors actually held the Cavaliers to 39 percent shooting for the game. Durant’s length and his lateral movement across the court on defense is a huge part of that. Golden State lost two good defenders this summer, but Durant is scarily talented on that end when he wants to be.
Sequence of the night: LeBron layup into KD dunk into LeBron dunk
Insane sequence pic.twitter.com/l0GKg8zg9y
— Full Court Prez (@fullcourtprez) December 25, 2016
Plays of the night: Richard Jefferson is still dunking
Oh, and that’s not all.