Granted the Warriors are a much tougher team this season, but they’ve been able to pull it out when they needed it most.
Go ahead, back them into a corner. Call them names. Write them off.
The Cavaliers don’t care.
For the fourth time in two years, Cleveland fought off elimination in the NBA Finals by winning just when it appeared their season was over.
On Friday night, the Cavs turned to anger over some comments made by Golden State’s motor-mouthed forward Draymond Green into energy and their best performance this season. They broke scoring records in a stunning 137-116 victory that shoved this “Three-match” between new-school rivals to the West Coast for Game 5 on Monday.
And while most teams would prefer not to live on the edge, the Cavaliers seem to thrive there. The only team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals, LeBron James and his buddies are basketball’s high-wire, high-risk act with no net to break their fall.
It’s dangerous, and not for the faint of heart.
“I don’t like it,” James said, drawing laughter after surpassing Magic Johnson in the record book with his ninth career Finals triple-double. “It causes too much stress, man. I’m stressed out. Keep doing this every year. But listen, at the end of the day we just got some resilient guys.”
The Cavaliers are still alive and have a chance to do what no other team has ever done in the NBA playoffs – rally from a 3-0 deficit.
It’s been done on big stages in other sports, perhaps most famously by the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who strung together four wins over the New York Yankees to win the AL pennant on the way to their first World Series title since 1918.
But in the 126 instances where NBA teams have fallen behind 3-0, none have recovered to win the series. Zero. That’s 0-126.
Maybe these chaotic Cavs are just the team to do it.
Stack up the odds, Cleveland conquers them.
“We’re a resilient group, resilient team,” said Kevin Love, who made 6 of 8 3-pointers and scored 23 points. “We have been in this situation before. Every year’s different, every playoff series, every game, but we just are a team that never count ourselves out.
“We feel like any game that we walk on the floor we have a great game plan, and we expect to win. But we just continue to have that fire, continue to be resilient, but right now it’s just becoming one game at a time
“One quarter, each possession being huge for us, because that can make or break a team.”
But beyond their resiliency, the Cavs have displayed a mental toughness through all kinds of adversity. Over the past three years since James returned from Miami, the Cavs have handled injuries, constant scrutiny, drama – much of it self-inflicted- and even a midseason coaching change.
There doesn’t seem to be anything that rattles them, so it should be no surprise that on the verge of being swept by a Warriors team James called a “juggernaut” and “beast” before the Finals began, Cleveland dug down deep again.
Kyrie Irving knocked down seven of Cleveland’s 24 3-pointers – one of their three Finals scoring records – and had 40 points as the Cavs stopped Golden State’s 15-game postseason winning streak and lived to see another game.
The All-Star point guard, who made several Golden State defenders look silly with his darting moves, excels when things seem darkest. However, he can’t explain the defending champions’ ability to bounce back.
“Every game is do or die, and we understand that,” he said. “We’re ready to live in it.”
On Thursday, Green, whose suspension from last year’s Game 5 for hitting James in the groin helped swing the series to Cleveland, said he was looking forward to celebrating on Cleveland’s home floor for the second time in three years.
And while the comments didn’t come across as excessively brash given that they were from Green, Irving said the Cavs were offended and inspired by them.
“It’s part of the game,” Irving said. “But we knew what we were faced with. But then you add, of course, some chatter in there, and that adds some extra motivation. That taste wouldn’t have been the same if we would have lost tonight and they would have celebrated on our home floor. So I’ll just leave that at that.”
The Cavs were also well aware that in the final minutes of Game 3 that Stephen Curry stopped on the floor and squatted in what many perceived to be an insulting gesture.
The bottom line is that Cleveland has gotten these Finals to 3-1, a familiar situation that must give them a little comfort.
James, though, wouldn’t concede the Cavs have the Warriors right where they want them.
“No,” he said. “They got us where they want us. At the end of the day, we want to just try to put ourselves in position to play another game, and we did that, and hopefully, we can do it Monday night where we can come back here. So our mindset is try to go up there and get one.”