OAKLAND – The screams were primal and loud and the emotion
He’d just put up 39 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists, handling the ball and the responsibility and the pressure as few can, guiding the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 97-95 overtime win over the Golden State Warriors that evened the best of seven NBA final at a game apiece.
No one – at least no one publicly and not directly connected to the Cleveland franchise — figured the Cavs could somehow overcome Irving’s loss and derail the Warriors in their home.
It was like blood to a shark.
“Our guys love the fact that we’ve been counted out,” said James.
The Cavs won because they played they way they wanted and the way the Warriors didn’t. The game was not at all aesthetically pleasing – the Cavs shot 32.6 per cent from the field and won, the Warriors were at 39.9 per cent – and there were mental blips all over.
“They’re pretty much saying that especially after Kyrie got hurt and the series was over,” James said. “I think our guys are using that as motivation. I use a little bit of it, but I have a lot of motivation already to just be a part of greatness and be a part of this and be a part of this atmosphere.
“My motivation is to make sure my guys are ready and prepared every night we step on the floor. And I have some other motivation that I won’t talk about right now, but I have so many different things to worry about than being an underdog or guys counting us out.”
“I mean, mechanically I don’t know if there is an explanation for it, just didn’t have a rhythm and didn’t find one the whole game,” Curry said.
“I’m not going to let one game kind of alter my confidence. I know as a team we’re not going to let one team alter our belief that we’re going to win the series.”
Still, the Warriors had their chances. As bad as they were most of the night, they finished the fourth quarter on a 13-4 run to send the second straight game of the series to overtime. They gave up the first five points of overtime but took a one-point lead on Curry foul shots only to have Matthew Dellavedova put Cleveland back up with two free throws of his own.
Dellavedova then harassed Curry into a bad shot he missed terribly and James sealed with his final free throw.
That Dellavedova played an intricate role in the final sequence is oddly fitting. He was quite average with gusts to below average most of the night – he did have moments of good defence but he was no real threat to score – but when it came time to make a play or two, he did.
He’ll never be confused with Irving on skill alone but he’s a different player and sometimes that’s enough.
“You know, he did what he has been doing every time that we’ve put him in that position,” said Cleveland coach David Blatt. “He’s a courageous kid that plays right. There was a lot of nonsense swirling around about his style of play.