Emotions are running high in the NBA Finals, with superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant exchanging heated words while Golden State and Cleveland are locked in a familiar tension-packed position.
The Warriors lead defending champion Cleveland 3-1 in the best-of-seven series and can capture their second crown in three years by winning Monday before a home crowd.
But the Cavaliers staved off elimination by ripping Golden State 137-116 in game four, sinking a record 24 3-pointers and scoring the most points in any half (86) or quarter (49) in finals history.
“That’s part of who we are,” James said. “We set a lot of records since we assembled this team the last couple years.”
Both sides know the history, the Warriors squandering a 3-1 series lead last year as the Cavaliers made the greatest comeback in finals history to win Cleveland’s first major sports title in 52 years.
It’s a bitter memory for the Warriors, who seek redemption. It’s an encouraging one for the Cavaliers, trying to be the first team to rally from 3-0 down to win a playoff series. No finals team down 3-0 has even forced a seventh game since 1951.
And it’s all getting to be a bit much for James.
“I don’t like it. It causes too much stress,” James said. “I’m stressed out. Keep doing this every year. We’ve just got some resilient guys.”
James and Durant received technical fouls in the third quarter after yelling at each other, two of seven technicals issued in the game, five in a raucous third quarter.
“The game is supposed to be played physically,” James said. “Both teams were wanting to put themselves in the record books and in basketball history. So try to do whatever it takes to win.”
Durant was concerned abundant foul calls were draining the passion from the moment.
“We weren’t coming to blows. We were just talking. That’s a part of basketball,” Durant said. “It’s like the aura of the game created trash talk.
“I’m sure it’s going to continue. There’s nothing malicious. Emotions are what keeps this game alive.”
Altercations are nearing the point of getting out of hand, said Warriors forward Draymond Green, who missed last year’s fifth finals game after a suspension for striking James in the groin.
“I think it did a little bit (get out of hand),” Green said of game four. “The longer the series goes on, the more stuff like that happens.”
Don’t expect Cleveland forward Tristan Thompson to back down either.
“It’s The Finals. Guys are going to talk,” he said. “We’re going to respond but they aren’t going to punk us. Not me. Talk all you want but I’m definitely going to bark back. That’s just how I’m built.”
While it brings out fouls and anger, the energy also produces some of the trademark thrills the NBA Finals is known for.
“It’s The Finals and everyone is heated. Everyone wants to win,” Cavs guard J.R. Smith said. “All the energy is going to something positive, I would hope.”
With the chance go 16-0 in the playoffs and become the first NBA club with a perfect post-season run, Warriors guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson struggled.
But Curry shakes off similarities to last year, in part after adding Durant, who came from Oklahoma City last July in hopes of winning his first career title.
“Different team,” Curry said. “Obviously we have haven’t felt this feeling walking off the court with a loss in a while, but we’ve done a good job of bouncing back and being resilient all year.
“We need to play better, to have a better first punch in that first six minutes, to play with more force and aggressiveness and physicality. Going home is a good feeling, but it has to go with playing better.”
– ‘Now we have to capitalize’ -James, in his seventh consecutive finals, has won at least one road game in 29 consecutive playoff series, but for the streak to continue, the Cavs must win Monday.
“We have to be physical at the point of attack. We got to continue to move the ball, share the ball,” James said. “We want to put ourself in position to play another game.”
The Warriors know all-too well how quickly 3-1 finals leads can vanish.
“We felt great about last year up 3-1,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We’re in a great spot and now we have to capitalize. But last year is last year, this year is this year.”
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue has the same approach he adopted last year.
“We have to come back home,” he said. “So we might as well come back with a win.”