CLEVELAND — The greatness of LeBron James is measurable. Four MVPs, two championships, a scoring title and a regular place on the All-NBA first team are irrefutable evidence of basketball immortality. Yet this Finals has shown that James is not done layering that résumé yet. One game after saving the Cavaliers’ season with a 41-point, 16-rebound effort in Game 5, James pushed Cleveland to the cusp of its first championship in franchise history with a 41-point, 11-assist, eight-rebound effort in the Cavaliers’ 115-101 win over the Warriors in Game 6 on Thursday night.
"He had another unbelievable game," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "That's what we expect of LeBron, and that's what he's been doing his whole career. So, one more game, and we need another one out of him."
Cleveland set the tone in the first quarter, attacking Golden State’s undersized lineup. Warriors coach Steve Kerr elected to replace injured 7-foot center Andrew Bogut with 6-6 Andre Iguodala, opening the game with Golden State’s vaunted “death lineup.” But with no interior defender, Cleveland went to the basket relentlessly. James and Kyrie Irving — one game removed from becoming the first pair of teammates to score 40-plus in the same Finals game — continued that effectiveness in Game 6. The Cavs scored 31-points — 12 in the paint — and connected on 57.1 percent of their shots in the first quarter.
The Cavaliers’ defense in the first quarter was even better: Cleveland held the Warriors to 11 points — a season low for a quarter — on 22.7 percent shooting.
Golden State came alive in the second quarter, paced by Curry, who picked up two fouls in the first quarter and was limited to just three points. The reigning MVP shook off some early tentativeness to score 15 points in the second. A 20-point lead was quickly whittled to eight with four minutes to go in the half. Cleveland rallied, though, turning errant Warriors jump shots into transition opportunities and pushing the lead back to 16 at halftime. A surprise contributor, seldom-used reserve Dahntay Jones, chipped in five points in three minutes in the second quarter.
Cleveland controlled most of the third, continuing to attack the paint. Golden State hoped to get a boost from Draymond Green, who returned to the lineup following a one-game suspension. Yet Green was largely ineffective, finishing with eight points and 10 rebounds. James and Irving scored on a steady diet of one-on-one plays to keep the pace. Yet Golden State surged again, backed by eight points from Klay Thompson in the final 91 seconds of the quarter to cut the lead to nine at the end of the third.
James, though, would not be denied. He poured in 10 points in the first seven minutes of the fourth and handed out three of his game-high 11 assists. An Irving free throw late in the fourth ended a stretch of James scoring or assisting on 27 consecutive Cavaliers points.
"It's LeBron being LeBron," Lue said. "He's one of the greatest of all times."
With just under five minutes left and the Cavaliers up 13, James blocked a Curry layup attempt, barking in Curry’s direction. Minutes later, Curry was gone, ejected by referee Jason Phillips after throwing his mouthpiece after picking up his sixth personal foul.
"Yeah, I'm happy he threw his mouthpiece," Kerr said. "He should be upset. Look, it's the Finals and everybody's competing out there. There are fouls on every play. It's a physical game.
"He had every right to be upset. He's the MVP of the league. He gets six fouls called on him, three of them were absolutely ridiculous."
As Curry walked off the floor following his ejection, he appeared to gesture toward James, with James following him down the Warriors' end of the floor.
Game 7, here we come.