OAKLAND — LeBron James played the single best game of these NBA Finals Sunday in Oakland. He was otherworldly — he scored or assisted on 26 of the 32 Cleveland buckets. He had 40 points, 11 assists and 14 rebounds, plus played good defense inside. He carried the Cavaliers as far as any player could have. It was an epic Finals effort for the ages.
And it wasn’t enough.
Stephen Curry had his best game of the Finals scoring 36 and taking over late in the fourth dropping 17 in the frame; Andre Iguodala continued his fantastic play all series, and the small ball lineup of the Golden State Warriors got them the pace they wanted. In fact, the Cavaliers had to go small to match them just to stay in the game.
“It’s the way we had to play to have a chance to win the game,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said, noting that lineup kept them close until late while their big lineups were getting torched.
It still didn’t work.
Golden State won Game 5 104-91 and now lead the best-of-seven NBA Finals 3-2. The Warriors can close out the series on the road Tuesday night in Cleveland.
But you can bet LeBron is not going to let that be easy.
“We’re not getting ahead of ourselves,” Curry said. “The locker room, if you walked in there, was the exact same as after a regular-season win.”
The Cavaliers hung around this one because of LeBron, but in the final five minutes the Warriors pulled away — because of the jump shot.
In answer to a LeBron three that was closer to the half court line than the three point arc (34 feet, according to NBA.com), Curry showed off a shake-and-bake move to create space and drain a three. Then after a stop, Klay Thompson hit a 29 footer, and the Warriors were up five. The Cavs would not quit, they would not let the Warriors run away as they had done so often during the season. LeBron answered with a bucket and, after a stop, he drove and assisted Tristan Thompson for a bucket that made it a one-point game again. LeBron would not let the game go.
But the Warriors’ threes kept raining. Iguodala from the corner. Then Iguodala on the old-school and-one three after an offensive board. That had the lead up to seven.
LeBron drove and drew a foul, but he was clearly gassed at this point. His shots started to come up short, his drives lacking just that little bit of power he had earlier.
Soon came another Curry shake-and-bake three, and the lead was up to 10.
Eventually came another Curry three with 1:24 left that was the dagger, after another ridiculous move.
“It was an incredible play and I enjoyed watching it from my front-row seat,” Draymond Green said. Yet both he and Curry refused to call it a signature play because only the team holding the trophy has those, and they are not holding yet.
But Curry found his groove and the narrative that Matthew Dellavedova was a Curry stopper finally died.
“From the very beginning, when they went small, had their shooters out there, I thought, ‘This is Steph’s night,’” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
Curry finished with 36 points on 13-of-23 shooting and hit 7-of-13 from three. After that, the Warriors had balance: 16 points from Draymond Green, 14 from Iguodala, 13 from Leandro Barbosa, 12 from Klay Thompson. The Warriors played their game all around.
“(Curry’s shooting) not why we lost. We gave up 18 fast breakpoints. We gave up 15 second-chance points,” LeBron said. “Steph was special, obviously, but him hitting those step-back threes is not why we lost the game.”
In the first half, it was the LeBron James show.
“He’s phenomenal, he’s doing everything,” Kerr said of LeBron James. “But I’m not enjoying the marveling (at his play).”
After starting 0-of-3, the Warriors hit the next 4-of-5 as they attacked the rim for dunks. They were getting out in transition and getting to the rim with Mozgov pulled out on the perimeter and unsure what to do (and in no position to recover).
The Cavaliers decided to match the Warriors by going small, and it mostly worked. Because of LeBron. — he was otherworldly in the first half.
LeBron had 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in the first 24 minutes. He scored or assisted on all but one of the Cavaliers buckets in the first half. He got them to 50 (with JR Smith pitching in and hitting some threes). He also did a good job in the paint protecting the rim.
But all that left the Cavaliers one short after a Harrison Barnes putback dunk, the Warriors were up 51-50 at the break. The Warriors shot 54.1 percent and hit 5-of-10 from three in the first half, Stephen Curry had 15 points hitting 3-of-4 from three.
The third quarter saw LeBron struggle some, getting four points and an assist, as he started to wear down and was missing shots outside the paint. The Cavaliers were getting great play inside from Tristan Thompson, who kept making plays at the rim.