CLEVELAND — Many who arrived at Quicken Loans Arena for Game 4 of the NBA Finals Friday night expected to see history. With the Golden State Warriors holding a 3-0 lead in this best-of-seven series — and carrying a pristine 15-0 record in these playoffs — it was hard to find anyone, even here in Northeast Ohio, who expected the Cleveland Cavaliers to find a way to send this series back to the Bay Area for Game 5.
The game delivered history — but not the type we expected. The hot-shooting Cavaliers took permanent pen to the NBA Finals record books in a 137-116 win in a game that had absolutely everything — good, bad and otherwise.
Now the series will shift back to Oakland for Game 5 Monday night, and it will take the entirety of the weekend to sort out what happened in this one. Oh, and this: The Warriors return home in the same position they were a year ago against Cleveland — holding a 3-1 lead.
“We have championship DNA as well, and we showed that tonight,” said LeBron James, who authored his ninth career NBA Finals triple-double with 31 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. “It’s one game, and it’s going to be even tougher in Game 5, but we look forward to the challenge.”
Cleveland kept its season alive thanks to a pair of remarkable performances from James Kyrie Irving, who had 40 points. Kevin Love added 23 points and J.R. Smith 15.
The Cavaliers set records for points in a quarter (49 in the first) and a half (86 in the first half), while shooting 52.9 percent from the field and 53.3 percent (24-for-45) from three-point range. All of it combined to allow Cleveland to lead wire-to-wire.
“It’s just do or die,” Irving said. “We understand that. Us leading the charge at both ends of the floor, you have to demand a lot out of yourself.
“Obviously the job is still far from over. It’s do or die from here forward, but tonight was a great start.”
The Cavaliers’ offensive acuity was only part of the story. Officials also had a place on the stage, calling 51 fouls — including 18 in the first quarter alone — to go with seven technical fouls, myriad replay reviews and, at one point, confusion over whether Draymond Green had been ejected because of a previously misassigned technical foul.
None of this was supposed to happen. After Golden State’s 11-0 run to close Game 3 left Cleveland in a 3-0 hole, few outside of the Cavaliers’ organization expected this game to be competitive, let alone see Cleveland win it.
But members of the Cavaliers expressed confidence in how their team would respond before Friday’s game, and they proved to be correct. Cleveland came out of the gate flying, as Smith opened the game with a three-pointer, followed by a pair of Irving baskets and a layup and foul from James. Suddenly, the Warriors trailed 19-6, and eventually were down by as many as 19 points in the first quarter.
Three early turnovers led to five quick points for the Cavaliers, and Cleveland finally started to get some life from center Tristan Thompson, who had been completely neutralized through the opening three games of the series.
Meanwhile, the fouls piled up — 12 on the Warriors in the first quarter, including two each on Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Green and Andre Iguodala. The result was 22 free throws for the Cavaliers, which helped power Cleveland to those 49 first quarter points, and a 49-33 lead after the opening 12 minutes.
Cleveland kept the pedal down in the second quarter, eventually finishing the half with 86 points and 13 three-pointers — two more NBA Finals records for a half — and an 86-68 lead.
Things truly got crazy, though, in the third quarter. First, James threw an alley-oop to himself off the backboard for a massive slam dunk. Then, James and Kevin Durant, who led Golden State with 35 points, picked up double technical fouls for jawing at each other at center court, which had the entire crowd on its feet.
And, finally — and most confusingly — Green picked up what everyone in the arena thought was a second technical foul for expressing his displeasure with a foul call on him with 6:18 remaining in the third. However, after the referees huddled, it was determined that the first technical foul — one that was called with 1:55 to go in the first quarter after a foul on Green — had been actually given to Warriors Coach Steve Kerr.