LeBron James forced a Game 7. The Cleveland Cavaliers will play the Golden State Warriors in a winner-take-all final game, but make no mistake, James is the reason why the Cavaliers won 115-101 in Game 6 on Thursday. With perhaps the most dominant individual fourth quarter in the history of the NBA Finals, James decided that no, the Cavaliers were not letting the Warriors celebrate a championship in his home town, not again. No, to Game 7 we go.
There are no words for what James did in the fourth quarter, scoring or assisting on the first 27 points of the frame as the Cavaliers beat back a gutsy Warriors comeback attempt. Golden State trailed nearly the entire game by double digits, but they got as close as seven points with a Leandro Barbosa triple with eight minutes left on the clock.
But LeBron James would not let the Cavaliers collapse. He single-handedly took over the entire frame, with a historic performance that will be remembered for many, many years. His final line doesn't look real: 41 points, eight rebounds, 11 assists, 16-of-27 shooting from the field, four steals, three blocks and just one turnover.
The first quarter caught everyone by surprise. The Cavaliers led 6-0 when the Warriors took their first timeout, presumably to settle them down and figure things out. Instead, Cleveland flashed a dominance in the opening frame that had been missing since starting the Finals. LeBron James brilliantly orchestrated the offense with pinpoint passing, and by the time the dust settled, the Cavaliers led 31-11 -- the lowest scoring quarter for the Warriors the entire season.
Cleveland sustained that lead in the second, scoring 28 more to lead 59-43 during the second half. The way Richard Jefferson has developed into the Cavaliers' most important role player is incredible, but the depth of the bench went deeper than that. Tyronn Lue opted for Mo Williams over Matthew Dellavedova, with Williams scoring a bucket toward the end of the first quarter, and then Dahntay Jones came into the game in the second quarter and made a few key plays.
The Warriors kept threatening to make it a game in the second half, coming back with little surges from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. But James' fourth quarter made sure they ultimately had no choice.
Game 7 is on Sunday. Let's get it.
1. This is about LeBron
You don't have to like it, but Game 6 is about LeBron James. These entire Finals are about LeBron James. After Game 4, he was on the verge of losing his fifth Finals in seven appearances, which should in no way have invalidated his career but seemed like it would anyway. Now, he might lead the first team ever to come back from a 3-1 deficit. Surely, win or lose, they can't fault him now -- right?!
He scored or assisted on every Cavaliers point until the late-game substitutes came in. He hit shot after shot after shot while throwing incredible passes with ridiculous touch. It was all about LeBron James and his "narrative" in the Finals. As it turns out, James is one of the greatest players to ever play this game. If this doesn't prove it, Finals record be damned, then what will?
2. Steph's foul trouble is bizarre and hurting the Warriors
For yet another game, Curry found himself in foul trouble early. He stayed in the game late in the second half when he recorded his third foul, but there were times when he had to concede layups to avoid picking up another and others when he must have scared the hell out of his coaches by gambling in the passing lanes. He narrowly survived a fourth foul in the first half on a collision with LeBron James when the referees ruled in his favor (correctly so), but plays like that are often 50/50.
Curry has been finding himself in foul trouble all series, picking up four in Games 2 and 3. Curry hadn't fouled out, but the threat of it clearly affected his aggressiveness at times, particularly on defense. Curry averaged just over two fouls per game in the regular season, a low number given the minutes he played, so this truly is a bizarre turn for the first-ever unanimous MVP. There's really no rhyme or reason for Curry's struggles -- he just can't stop fouling people, finally fouling out late in the frame on Thursday.
Golden State has bigger problems than Curry's foul trouble, but this bizarre, unexplainable problem with its best player sort of exemplifies the struggles it has had these past few games. There's really no reason for it, but it's hurting them anyway.
3. The Cavaliers were better without Kevin Love yet again
It has been a very tough series for Love, as he has matched up poorly with the Warriors' small ball and lack of traditional big men for him to defend. In Game 6, Love quickly got into foul trouble, and honestly it was probably beneficial for Cleveland. Although Love had a great plus-minus in Game 5 despite a very insignificant stat line, Love was a minus-6 on Thursday despite playing with an otherwise fantastic starting five.
What Lue does with Love is anyone's guess on Sunday. If he can't figure out a way to make him effective, he might just have to bench him. That's a huge question.