By Mark Bacon
For one game, the Cleveland Cavaliers channeled all the rage, frustration, pride and hope of a defending champion utterly on the ropes — and unleashed one of the most stunning counterpunches in NBA history.
They logged 86 points in the first half, a Finals record. They made a ridiculous 24 of 45 three-point shots. They out-Warriored the Warriors, moving the ball and getting help and great play from an array of players while riding a duo of superstars that commanded nearly every moment of a 137-116 beatdown against a very, very worthy challenger.
Through it all, the Cavaliers were propelled by a swagger absent in the first three games of the Finals. They looked, played and — most important — acted like defending champions.
Coded within it all was another reminder of the utter greatness of LeBron James. And the task and opportunity — does Cleveland being down 3-1 heading back to Golden State sound familiar, anyone? — before him.
LeBron’s 31 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists set two records: The most triple-doubles in Finals history, passing Magic Johnson, and the most points in Finals history, passing Michael Jordan.
There was a fury to the Cavaliers from the very beginning of Game 4 of the NBA Finals, one long overdue, a where-the-hell-has-this-been attack mentality that knocked a lackadaisical Warriors team off balance. And unlike Game 3, they never recovered.
Kyrie Irving was spectacular, dropping 40 points in blur after blur. Kevin Love scored 23. Tristan Thompson finally found his game, and his toughness, pulling down 10 rebounds and playing 36 dogged minutes that were a large part of his team’s sudden toughness and aggression. J.R. Smith made five of his nine three pointers. Even the bench contributed 23 points.
Cleveland also found, finally, a way to befuddle the Warriors and at least temporally put a halt to Golden State’s rampage through the postseason. Stephen Curry played badly — 14 points on 4-of-13 shooting and 2-of-9 three-point shooting, routinely disappearing into the roar of Quicken Loans Arena.
Kevin Durant reverted, time and again, to hero ball, and it did not work. He had 35, but he was just 9-of-22 and 2-of-9 on threes, and his lack of ball movement time and again halted the gears on the Warriors machine.
We have been here before, this stage where the Warriors seemed in control against Cleveland and LeBron. There are some things worth remembering:
Looking to close out the Warriors last year as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder last year in the Western Conference finals, Durant shot 39.5 percent from the field and 26.2 percent on threes. He was particularly off in Game 6, going 10-of-31 and 1-of-8 on threes. Much like his game Friday in Cleveland.
Similarly, as LeBron’s greatness began to extend to his own teammates last Finals, an unbeatable Warriors team turned into something utterly human. LeBron ruined their 73-win regular season. Now he’s ruined their quest for 16-0 in the NBA playoffs.
Does that mean he’s about to spur another comeback in the NBA Finals, topping last year’s stunner to again redefine the best comeback in league history?
But he’s still the best player on Earth — where are you now, you KD-is-better-than-LeBron-now fools? — and we’ve seen this story before. So don’t shut the door just yet.
Especially when, it turns out, the team he leads still has the fury and focus to rage against what is before them — the Warriors, the end of their quest, and all of us still certain in this series that for Golden State it’s still just a matter time.