CLEVELAND, United States, June 11- NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry snapped out of a slump with 38 points and the Golden State Warriors reached the brink of back-to-back NBA Finals titles Saturday by defeating Cleveland 108-97.
The Warriors, who sank an NBA Finals record 17 3-pointers, seized a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and can eliminate the Cavaliers with a home victory in game five Monday.
“Game five will be the hardest game of the series,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We have to understand this series is not over. Game five will be extremely difficult.”
NBA scoring leader Curry had struggled with shooting rhythm and foul troubles in the first three games but connected on 11-of-25 from the floor, including 7-of-13 3-point attempts, and 9-of-10 free throws. He had 13 points in the decisive fourth quarter.
“When I had the ball in my hands, I had to be assertive and decisive,” Curry said. “I didn’t have to deal with foul trouble. My teammates set great screens. We got the ball moving from side to side so I got some better looks off the ball.”
No team down 3-1 has ever rallied to win the NBA Finals and the Cavaliers’ first home playoff loss in nine starts dimmed their hopes of avenging last year’s finals loss to Golden State to become Cleveland’s first sports champion since 1964.
“We have to play with desperation, play to exhaustion and figure out how to win,” said Cleveland’s J.R. Smith. “It just sucks to be in this position. I don’t think there’s any doubting that we can do it. We’ve just got to ball out.”
Klay Thompson added 25 points and Harrison Barnes contributed 14, each hitting four 3-pointers, and Draymond Green grabbed 12 rebounds for the Warriors, who made 11 more 3-pointers than Cleveland and one more 3-point shot than they did 2-point shots, in large part to Curry’s revival of form.
“He’s the MVP for a reason,” Kerr said. “He doesn’t have the size and strength to dominate a game physically so he has to dominate with his skill and that’s not an easy thing to do because your shot sometimes isn’t going to go in.
“But he has a lot of faith in himself. He trusts his shot and he just kept firing and tonight they went in.”
– Late tension at last –
After three blowouts, the finals finally produced late drama. A 26-12 Golden State run ignited by 10 points from Thompson and eight by Curry was answered by a LeBron James-sparked 10-2 Cleveland run that put the Cavaliers ahead 83-81.
Golden State responded with a 12-1 run, Barnes opening and closing the critical stretch with 3-pointers to give the Warriors a 93-84 lead while the Cavaliers missed six consecutive shots and went more than six minutes without making a basket.
“They started making shots and getting stops,” James said. “We’ve got to learn from our mistakes… we had our chances.”
Kyrie Irving, who led Cleveland with 34 points, sank a layup but Curry answered with a 3-pointer as the tension mounted, so much so that James and Green exchanged words and had to be separated.
“Some of the words that came out of his mouth were a little bit overboard,” James said of Green.
Irving added a hoop and, after a fan ran onto the court and was taken off by security, James sank a free throw to pull the Cavs within 96-89.
But Cleveland could only trade points to the finish, Curry and Thompson making late free throws to seal the Cavaliers’ fate. James and Curry exchanged words in the dying seconds.
“That’s just normal basketball talk,” Curry said. “I wanted a foul. He didn’t think he fouled. We were just jabbering.”
– Seven turnovers for LeBron –
James finished with 25 points and game highs of 13 rebounds and nine assists but also made seven of 11 Cleveland turnovers. Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith each had 10 points, but all in the first half.
The Warriors, who won an NBA record 73 regular-season games, broke the old finals 3-point mark of 16 set by San Antonio against James-led Miami in 2013.
Golden State’s 88 combined season and playoff wins broke the old one-campaign mark of 87 by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.
Cleveland’s Kevin Love had 11 points in his first reserve role since 2010 after being cleared by doctors to return to the lineup following a concussion barely an hour before tipoff.
In a sellout crowd was incoming Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, who wore a James jersey.