Apparently, Kyrie Irving isn’t needed either.
The Cleveland Cavaliers keep losing All-Stars but keep winning the most important games in their 45-year history, unveiling a 96-91 victory Tuesday over the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
LeBron James continued to be effective across the board and Matthew Dellavedova added 20 points as the Cavaliers took a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 is Thursday in Cleveland.
As deliriously happy Cavaliers fans left the arena, they chanted, “Two more wins!” If it happened, it would be the Cavaliers’ first title ever.
There’s at least one stat firmly in their favor: The Game 3 winner in a 1-1 Finals has won the series 31 of 37 times (83.8%), according to Elias Sports Bureau.
The former MVP kept outplaying the current one Tuesday, James finishing with 40 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists at Quicken Loans Arena.
Stephen Curry couldn’t find his touch early for Golden State, missing seven of his first eight shots before finishing with 27 points.
James has held the Cavaliers together since Irving was lost toward the end of Game 1 because of a fractured kneecap. Seemingly eons ago, Kevin Love was lost in April because of a dislocated shoulder.
No problem. James and the Cavaliers keep surprising basketball followers.
“In order for us to win, we have to defend. Everyone knows their roles,” said James, who has played 142 of 154 possible minutes this series. “When you have chemistry, things work well.”
Cleveland looked like it would win easily, taking a 20-point lead late in the third quarter, but the Warriors cut it to three as Curry finally awoke and seldom-used David Lee had 11 points in 13 minutes.
After a careless turnover by Curry — he threw a behind-the-back pass to where he incorrectly thought Draymond Green was standing — James answered with a three-pointer as the shot clock wound down, giving Cleveland an 87-80 lead with 1 minute 44 seconds left.
James seemed unusually charged-up by the play. He ran downcourt and mimicked firing a gun, emptying the chambers and holstering it.
“The timely ones are the ones that killed us,” Curry said.
The Warriors were in this predicament last month, falling behind Memphis in the Western Conference semifinals, 2-1, before winning the next three games, including two on the road, to end the series.
But Golden State needs more consistency from Curry and help from others. Starters Harrison Barnes and Green combined for only seven points on two-for-18 shooting.
“I’ve got to find different ways to get us going,” Curry said. “I like that challenge.”
Cleveland fans loved plenty in Game 3 and began a “Del-ly, Del-ly” chant when Dellavedova hit a three-pointer and 11-foot floater on consecutive third-quarter possessions. The chant started again when he jumped over the courtside seats and into the crowd while chasing a loose ball.
The Cavaliers appreciate him too, obviously.
“The guys love Delly because he just plays with all his heart and he cares first about the team and only about the team,” Cleveland Coach David Blatt said. “What’s not to love about the guy?
“I tell you what, his biggest fan is sitting home right now, Kyrie Irving. Loves the guy. And he knows why, and we know why.”
Dellavedova added perhaps the toughest shot of the game, an off-balance nine-footer he threw off the backboard while getting fouled by Curry in the final minutes.
The game took a toll on Dellavedova. He had severe cramps and couldn’t make it to the podium to talk to reporters.
James, for his part, wasn’t just effective as a scorer.
He leaped high in the third quarter to get a piece of Klay Thompson’s attempted floater. Then at the other end, he set up Timofey Mozgov for an easy dunk.
And was that a smile when he nailed a small step-back floater over Shaun Livingston? It might have been a grimace. There was still an entire quarter to play. And two more victories are still needed for James to pull off one of the all-time basketball coups.
“This is a great moment and my teammates need me,” James said. “It’s my job to go out and lead those guys.”
James probably said it best after Cleveland surprised Golden State in Game 2: If you’re looking for “sexy, cute basketball,” you better not watch the Cavaliers.
But they keep winning. Do they ever.
Follow Mike Bresnahan on Twitter @Mike_Bresnahan