LeBron James had a simple mantra before Game 5, and he shared it publicly.
Win or lose, the Cleveland Cavaliers had to return home after playing Monday at Golden State. So why not win and force a Game 6 on the Cavaliers’ court?
James almost single-handedly made it happen by dominating Game 5 in too many ways to capture in a sentence, let alone a paragraph.
He scored 41 points, took 16 rebounds and added seven assists in a game-high 43 minutes of a 112-97 victory that prevented the Warriors from winning a second consecutive championship.
Cleveland still trails in the NBA Finals, 3-2, and faces the steep challenge known as history: No NBA team has ever successfully rallied from a 3-1 Finals deficit in 32 previous tries.
But James clung to his dream of bringing the Cavaliers the first NBA title of their 46-year existence. He made 16 of 30 shots, flying past Golden State defenders on plenty of them, and hit four of eight attempts from three-point range.
His defense bordered on maniacal. He ferociously blocked two shots from behind on Warriors fastbreaks and disrupted Shaun Livingston’s fastbreak dunk attempt as well.
“We had a mindset that we wanted to come here and just try to extend our [playoff] period,” James said. “I understood the magnitude of this game. I knew how great of a team we were playing.”
Cavaliers teammate Kyrie Irving was plenty sharp too, scoring 41 points to complement James in many ways, typically from the outside.
“Just Kyrie being special,” Cleveland Coach Tyronn Lue said.
Klay Thompson had 37 points for the Warriors, who clearly missed their most versatile player. Draymond Green sat out because of a one-game suspension after striking James in the groin in Game 4.
As such, Warriors fans chanted “Free Draymond” during timeouts Monday and booed James whenever he touched the ball.
Warriors Coach Steve Kerr didn’t want to address much about Green, ending reporters’ what-if questions about the fine defender and well-rounded offensive threat.
“We’re not talking about that,” Kerr said. “Draymond wasn’t here so we played without him. We didn’t play well enough to win. I’m not going into all that stuff.”
The Warriors are the ones facing some question marks now.
NBA most valuable player Stephen Curry fell back from his stirring Game 4 effort and missed 13 of 21 shots. He scored 25 points.
The Warriors will probably go forward without center Andrew Bogut, who suffered an undisclosed left knee injury in the third quarter and had to be helped off the court. Bogut’s contributions aren’t as splashy as his Warriors teammates’ but his defensive presence can cause trouble for opponents.
The Warriors get Green back for Game 6, but if they lose Thursday, the series is tied at three games each. Golden State would host Game 7.
Beyond James and Irving, there wasn’t much for Cleveland. Kevin Love, for example, returned to the starting lineup and had two points in 33 minutes in his second game back from a concussion.
It didn’t really matter.
James’ power and Irving’s grace were enough to silence a keyed-up Oracle Arena crowd that wanted to witness a clincher.
James returned to the Cavaliers two years ago in hopes of earning that elusive championship for them.
He still has a chance to do it, much more than was expected before Game 5.