The Cleveland Cavaliers are on the brink of perhaps winning their franchise’s first NBA title as they were able to force a Game 7 with their 115-101 win at Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday night.
Chants of “let’s go Cavs” and “defense” were humming throughout the building from the moment Tristan Thompson won the opening tip. Cleveland was active and swarming defensively from the start, and one sequence included a deflection and rebound, followed by a long outlet pass from Kevin Love to LeBron James that led to Draymond Green’s first foul of the game. Another play featured a James steal and quick outlet for a dunk in transition past the cautious defensive pressure from Stephen Curry, having picked up an early foul as well.
After missing their last nine shots of Game 5, Golden State started Game 6 a collective 0-7 before a Green drive and finish. Cleveland immediately responded with a Kyrie Irving three-pointer and another James finish at the rim. Even when Curry answered with a three-pointer of his own, Cleveland immediately attacked him on the other end and were rewarded with the second foul on the league’s MVP at the 5:45 mark of the opening quarter.
The Warriors were able to slow the Cavs down by influencing a miss, but Cleveland was simply fast to the ball and harder on the backboards throughout the first quarter. In fact, the Warriors scored just 47 combined points over three quarters when you include the second half of Game 5.
Golden State was able to chip away from what ballooned to as much as a 21-point lead in the second as Curry and others finally started making a few shots of their own. Once the Warriors got their offense going, it appeared to also settle them down defensively. Cleveland took a lead into the half. Klay Thompson struggled from the field (3-12) but remained aggressive for Golden State while Curry scored 18 points, but had three fouls in the first half. In the first half, James provided 14 points, six assists and three steals, Irving scored 20 of his own and Tristan Thompson chipped in 11 points and 10 rebounds for Cleveland.
The Cavaliers started the second half with an 8-2 run capped by a pair of free throws by Love. Love’s open look from beyond the arc extended Cleveland’s lead to 24. Cleveland was also able to relocate the defensive pressure that had previously limited these Warriors to just 47 points through three quarters (Game 5 second half and Game 6 first quarter) to start the third, but a late 14-4 run fueled by 15 points in the quarter from Klay Thompson brought Golden State to within 80-71 heading into the fourth.
Cleveland’s defensive effectiveness returned to start the fourth quarter, as the Cavs even managed to get an emotional outburst from the two-time defending league MVP as Curry actually threw his mouthpiece into the stands out of frustration following his sixth foul. James scored 41 points for his second-consecutive Finals game, but also dished out 11 assists, grabbed eight rebounds, swiped four steals and blocked three shots. Tristan Thompson also finished with 15 points and 16 huge rebounds for the Cavs.
The Cavs won Game 6 by not only doing the little things as a collective unit, but also dominating the box score – winning the battle for rebounds (45-35), steals (12-5), points in the paint (42-30), blocks (7-3) and fast break points (19-10).
In this series, James is now averaging 30.2 points, 11.3 boards, 8.5 assists, 2.7 steals and 2.2 blocks, while shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 40 percent from three.
To Curry’s credit, he did score 30 points before fouling out (and being ejected). No word on whether he’ll face any further disciplinary action for the events surrounding the ultimate ejection, but we should absolutely be in store for an incredible Game 7 from Oracle Arena on Sunday at 8 p.m. EST.
Game 7 Prediction: Cleveland is playing with all the confidence in the world behind a collective effort obviously led by LeBron James’s excellence, but the Golden State Warriors have faced and overcome adversity several times throughout this run and earned the right to defend their home court one last time. Andre Iguodala’s availability (sore back) will absolutely be vital for the Warriors. If he’s able to play at an effective level, you have to imagine guys like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes (just two for his last 22 from the field) will find a way to respond with their collective backs against the wall. Our guess is that Golden State guts out another tough one, but not without having to overcome another massive effort from James and crew.
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