OAKLAND, June 8- LeBron James produced one of the greatest performances in NBA Finals history and the Cleveland Cavaliers edged Golden State 95-93 in over-time Sunday to level their championship series showdown.
James scored 39 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and added 11 assists over 50 minutes in an epic effort that left the best-of-seven matchup at 1-1 with game three Tuesday in Cleveland, where the Cavaliers have won 26 of their past 28 starts.
“For me to be able to go out on the biggest stage and to be able to make plays happen is the ultimate feeling,” James said.
“Total team effort. (It took) everything. I tried to give it to my teammates and they gave it back to me.”
The only similar all-around game in NBA Finals history was the 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists of James Worthy in game seven of the 1988 final for the triumphant Los Angeles Lakers.
No other Finals player has managed 35 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists.
“It’s what needs to be done to help our team win,” James said. “Am I going to be in the 30s every game? I’m not sure. But if that’s what the case has to be to help us win, then I don’t have a choice.”
The Cavaliers are trying to bring the city of Cleveland its first major sports champion since the 1964 Browns won the NFL crown, while the Warriors seek their first NBA title in 40 years.
Cleveland’s defense, led by Australian reserve guard Matthew Dellavedova, kept NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry to 19 points on 5-of-23 shooting, including only 2-of-15 from 3-point range, his worst shooting effort of the season.
“It’s just a team defensive cover. Everybody has to be alert the whole game,” Dellavedova said.
“Even if you play good defense, he’s going to hit some tough shots, so you’ve just got to keep defending him and just make it as hard as possible.”
Dellavedova started in place of Kyrie Irving, who suffered a fractured left kneecap in Cleveland’s game one loss. When the Aussie defended him, Curry was 0-of-8 shooting from the floor, 0-for-5 from 3-point range, with four turnovers.
“It had everything to do with Delly,” James said. “He was spectacular.”
– Curry sets dubious mark –
Curry’s 13 missed 3-point shots were an NBA Finals record, two more than the old mark belonging to John Starks from 1994.
“I don’t expect to shoot like this,” Curry said. “I’ve got to play better, find better shots and be more in a rhythm for us to really assert ourselves.”
Cleveland squandered an 11-point lead in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, allowing Curry to force over-time with a layup to level at 87-87.
Curry gave the Warriors their only lead after half-time with two free throws for a 93-92 edge, only to watch Dellavedova answer with two free throws of his own with 10 seconds remaining to put Cleveland ahead to stay.
James added a final free throw and Iman Shumpert stole the ball from Curry to deny the Warriors even a final shot.
Cleveland needed the win as teams that fall behind 2-0 in the NBA Finals have lost 28 of 31 times. The Cavs won in an arena where Golden State had lost only three times in 50 prior starts in the regular season and playoffs.
“Very emotional win right there,” said James. “Our guys love the fact we’ve been counted out, especially after Kyrie got hurt and the series was over. We have got a long way to go. If we defend as good as we did tonight, we’ve got a good chance against anybody.”
Russian center Timofey Mozgov had 17 points and 11 rebounds for Cleveland and Tristan Thompson added 14 rebounds.
Klay Thompson led Golden State with a playoff career high 34 points.
“Tried to play as aggressive as I can, but in the end, 34 points is meaningless,” Thompson said.
It was the ninth time in a row that a James team bounced back to win game two of a playoff series when it lost the opener.
“These situations only make us stronger,” Cavaliers coach Dave Blatt said. “I thought they played heartful.”