A mere 48 minutes could separate the Golden State Warriors from 40 years of heartbreak.
A fourth-quarter burst pushed them to a 104-91 victory Sunday over the Cleveland Cavaliers and oh-so-close to an NBA championship.
Yellow confetti drizzled from the ceiling at Oracle Arena as Warriors fans snapped pictures from cellphones, knowing the series could end Tuesday with Game 6 in Cleveland.
How badly do the Warriors want it, their first championship since 1975?
“What's the best way to say ‘really bad'?” said Warriors guard Stephen Curry, emerging from a game of small ball vs. small ball with 37 points.
Curry, though, felt symptoms of dehydration after leaving his postgame interview with reporters. He had to consume extra fluids and relaxed by watching TV in the locker room, according to Warriors spokesman Raymond Ridder.
LeBron James had 40 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists as the Cavaliers fell further from winning the first championship in their 45-year history.
James' effort was all but overshadowed by immediate second-guessing of Cavaliers Coach David Blatt, who matched the Warriors' tiny lineup by playing guard J.R. Smith much more than center Timofey Mozgov.
Mozgov had 28 points and 10 rebounds in Game 4 against the undersized Warriors but was an afterthought Sunday, playing only five minutes in the first quarter and four more after that, making Cleveland's Tristan Thompson the tallest player used by either team most of the game. He is 6 feet 9. Mozgov was scoreless with no rebounds.
“I thought I was pretty clear … I thought that was our best chance to win the game, and we were definitely in the game with a chance to win,” Blatt said after repeated questions from reporters about the decision to go small. “So that's the way we played it. So I thought I was pretty clear with that.”
Smith had 14 points in the first half, finally awakening after a dud of a series. Or so it appeared.
He was a non-factor in the second half, going scoreless and leaving James to try to carry everything alone.
In Blatt's defense, the game was tight until Curry scored on a driving layup and then a 27-foot three-pointer after putting on a dribbling clinic with Matthew Dellavedova guarding him. The latter gave Golden State a 96-86 lead with 2:44 to play.
Curry had 17 points in the fourth quarter as the Warriors burst free with 31.
“Not a lot you can do, honestly,” Blatt said. “There are a few that he made, more than a few, that were extremely difficult shots — high, high-level shots by a high-level player.”
James kept the game interesting against the heavily favored Warriors, accounting for 26 of the Cavaliers' 32 field goals. He drew an uneasy reaction from nervous Warriors fans by hitting a 34-foot three-pointer with 7:47 to play, giving Cleveland an 80-79 lead.
But Curry answered with a 26-footer and Klay Thompson added a 29-footer for an 85-80 Warriors edge with 6:49 left.
“A long season goes into these last moments of the Finals series,” Curry said. “We fought hard all year and put ourselves in good position now to go to Cleveland and hopefully close it out.”
Draymond Green had 16 points while again starting at center for Golden State. He is 6 feet 7.
James almost had a triple-double in the first half, scoring 20 points with eight rebounds and eight assists, practically the only reason the Cavaliers were down by only a point, 51-50.
“I feel confident because I'm the best player in the world,” James said matter-of-factly when asked whether he felt confident despite the Cavaliers being severely undermanned.
But James seemed irritated in the game's final minute, contesting a non-call when he thought Curry carried the ball over in the backcourt. He spent about half a minute jawing at the referee who made the call, to no avail, even though the Warriors were ahead by nine.
Maybe we've seen the best of the Cavaliers, scoring unexpected victories in Games 2 and 3. At least that's what the Warriors hope.