OAKLAND, United States , June 18 – Versatile Cleveland playmaker LeBron James and Golden State 3-point sharpshooter Stephen Curry, today’s biggest NBA stars, have a date with destiny in Sunday’s decisive seventh game of the 70th NBA Finals.
Back-to-back 41-point games by “King” James sparked victories that pulled the Cavaliers from a 3-1 hole to level the best-of-seven series and set up a tension-packed, winner-take-all spectacle that will leave one of the game’s greatest heroes gutted.
“You’ve got to love that kind of environment and that battle,” Curry said. “Haven’t enjoyed it much the last two games, but there are 48 minutes left.”
Teams have swapped storylines. Defending champion Golden State, using tough defense and team depth, was on the brink of repeat titles while James and the Cavaliers showed grit and refused to quit.
Now the Cavaliers are on the verge of completing the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history, becoming the first team to win the crown after trailing 3-1, and stressing teamwork.
“I give a lot of credit to my teammates,” James said. “Without the ball moving, without the screens being set, without the coaching staff putting out the game plans for us offensively, what I’ve been able to do, it doesn’t happen. So those guys definitely get the credit.”
The Cavaliers are trying to win their first title since the club was formed in 1970 and bring Cleveland its first major sports champion since the 1964 NFL Browns.
“It’s on everybody’s shoulders. We want to win it for the city of Cleveland,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “Just walking around the city, the love and appreciation we get, we want to give the city of Cleveland a championship.”
Golden State, meanwhile, could suffer the worst choke in NBA history, squandering the trophy after three chances to win it. The Warriors are only the third team to be taken to a seventh game after being up 3-1, the first in half a century.
And that’s after a campaign in which they had the best regular-season record in NBA history at 73-9 and Curry set a season record for 3-pointers with 402, led the NBA in scoring and was a unanimous selection for his second consecutive NBA Most Valuable Player award.
– ‘We have to show some fire’ –
The Warriors now talk of bringing the passion, anger and emotion that at the start of the week was the Cavaliers’ hot topic.
“We have to show some fire for game seven. We’re going to need some emotion, some grit and toughness,” Curry said. “We’re more mentally tough than letting two games not go our way put any doubt in our heads.”
Cleveland overpowered Golden State from the start in game six, seizing a 31-9 edge in the lowest-scoring quarter all season for the NBA’s top-scoring team.
“Come Sunday, we’ve got to blitz them. We can’t be on our heels and them be the aggressor,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “I’ve got faith in this team. It’s not time to hang our heads.
“We’ve just got to make them uncomfortable. Respect them, but never fear them. When we play our best with great effort we’re dang near impossible to beat.”
But with passion has come problems for the Warriors. A frustrated Curry was ejected after fouling out in game six for tossing his mouthpiece and hitting a front-row spectator. And too many playoff flagrant fouls cost Draymond Green a one-game ban.
“Play angry, but don’t play with so much emotion it takes you out of your focus. But 100 percent play angry,” Thompson said. We’re going to play angry because we know if we play with that emotion and channel it the right way, we’re a really good team.”
– Disrupting LeBron key –
Job one for the Warriors will be containing James, whose magical game-six effort included scoring 18 Cavaliers points in a row to stiffle a late Warriors’ rally.
“We’ve got to come out with an edge and impose our will from the beginning,” Green said. “If you let guys get in a rhythm like that, it’s tough to stop them.”
Not since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000 had a player broken 40 points in consecutive finals games.
“Tip your hat to him and come out Sunday with aggression to hopefully clog some driving lanes early, not let him get a rhythm, try to make him as uncomfortable as you can,” Curry said. “Force him into as many tough shots as you can.”
James stressed defense as well.
“For us to be ultimately successful, we have to defend,” James said. “Our antennas have to be up on every possession. The last two games, our antennas have been razor sharp.”
And a razor’s edge is about all separating a hard-won title from bitter disappointment come Sunday.
“I know game seven will be the hardest thing ever,” Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving said. “This is the all-time high, both teams have a chance to win championships. I’m excited to just get to Sunday and see what it’s really like.”