Cavaliers forward LeBron James and Warriors forward Kevin Durant exchange words after a foul call during the second half.(Jason Miller / Getty Images)
Warriors coach Steve Kerr and forward Draymond Green (23) want some answers from the referees after a call in the second half.(Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)
Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving tries to score on a drive down the lane against Warriors forward David West, left, and guard Klay Thompson during the second half. Irving finished with 40 points.(Larry W. Smith / EPA)
Warriors center Zaza Pachulia (27) and Cavaliers guard Deron Williams grapple for a loose ball while Cleveland guards Kyle Korver (23) and Iman Shumpert (4) join Golden State guard Shuan Livingston in the second-half scrum.(Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)
Warriors guard Stephen Curry drives to the basket against the Cavaliers during the second half. Curry finished with only 14 points in the game.(Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)
Cavaliers forward LeBron James collects himself in the second half after getting knocked to the court during a collision with a teammate.(Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)
Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving reacts after a play during the first half.(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)
Cavaliers forward LeBron James drives down the lane between Warriors forward Matt Barnes, right, and guard Shaun Livingston during the first half.(Jason Miller / Getty Images)
Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson tries to steal the ball from Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the first half.(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)
Cavaliers forward Kevin Love shoots over Warriors forward Draymond Green during the first half.(Ron Schwane / Associated Press)
Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) tries to keep control of the ball while under defensive pressure by Cavaliers forward Richard Jefferson during the first half.(Jason Miller / Getty Images)
Warriors forward Andre Iguodala reaches for the ball while playing tight defense against Cavaliers forward LeBron James during the first half.(Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)
Warriors forward Draymond Green reacts to a foul call during the first half.(Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)
Warriors forward Draymond Green reaches for the ball as Cavaliers forward Richard Jefferson (24) tries to drive against Warriors guard Shaun Livingston (34) during the first half.(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)
Chaos reigned Friday night as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat back history.
Two former MVPs — one on the brink of his first NBA championship, one trying to avoid being swept out of the Finals — were hit with technical fouls. One Golden State Warrior, hated in this arena, was ejected at first glance, only to have the first technical foul rescinded. A fan was asked to leave after engaging with several Warriors’ players.
Through all that ruckus rang out one simple truth:
LeBron James is one of the greatest to play this game, and he was not about to let himself be on the losing end of another team’s historic postseason.
Starting with a record 49-point first quarter, the Cavaliers beat the Warriors 137-116 at Quicken Loans Arena, earning their first win of the NBA Finals and avoiding crushing elimination. They haven’t come back from a 3-0 deficit — no team has. But Cleveland now faces a 3-1 deficit, the same one they overcame a year ago against a 73-win Warriors team.
“They wanted to spray champagne in our locker room,” James said. “I didn’t stress anything besides live in the moment. We have a great opportunity to give ourselves another opportunity to keep moving.”
The loss ensured the Warriors will not become the first team in NBA history to sweep the postseason. At best, they can tie the 2000-01 Lakers, who went 15-1, when beating the Philadelphia 76ers in five games in the Finals.
The Cavaliers shot better than 50% from three-point range, making a record-busting 24 three-pointers while taking 45. Kyrie Irving led Cleveland with 40 points on 15-of-27 shooting from the field, including seven of 12 from three-point range. James had a triple-double with 31 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. It was his ninth Finals triple-double, making him the all-time leader in that category.
Kevin Durant led the Warriors with 35 points, but made only nine of 22 shots from the field, including two of nine from long range. He was the only Warriors player to eclipse 20 points. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 27 points on eight-of-24 shooting, making six of their 19 three-point shots.
Three-point barrages are normally the Warriors’ specialty, but the Cavaliers shot better in the first quarter, making seven of 13 from long distance, while the Warriors made only three of 10.
After their record-setting first quarter, the Cavaliers scored 86 points by halftime, setting a new mark for points in a half during the Finals.
Early in the third quarter, James leaped into the air and threw the ball off the backboard with his right hand before rising again to dunk it with both hands.
A few minutes later, with 7:26 left in the third quarter, Cavaliers forward Kevin Love committed a flagrant foul on Durant, and that’s when disorder took over.
James and Durant argued near the Cavaliers bench after battling on the court all series long, and both got technical fouls.
“You can’t take everything away from the game,” Durant said. “You’re taking the hard fouls out of the game, calling them flagrants, taking a lot of stuff out of game, but you can’t take the emotion out of the game. We weren’t coming to blows; we were just talking. That’s a part of basketball.”
Then, Golden State’s Zaza Pachulia fought for a loose ball and swiped at Cleveland’s Iman Shumpert. The video board replayed the incident in slow motion, with the implication that Pachulia might have swiped at Shumpert’s groin area. A year ago, in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Green’s swipe at James’ groin led to a Game 5 suspension that began the Cavaliers’ comeback.
Somewhere in all that, a fan was ejected after engaging with several Warriors players, including Matt Barnes.
“Obviously, his body language, pointing finger at me, looking at me, pointing at me,” Pachulia said. “He wasn’t telling me I was having a nice game.”
The arena was tense, but as the game continued, the Cavaliers never let the Warriors get too close. They got within 11 points while James rested, but Cleveland’s lead extended into the high teens quickly.
On Friday morning, a few blocks from the arena, one optimist painted a window with black letters that said: “Cavs in 7.”
Nearby, another sign declared the same message. Around the corner, a restaurant posted a chalkboard with a hopeful, if slightly inaccurate, message: “We did it before, we can do it again!”
On Friday night, their team answered their pleas, if only for one game.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli