CLEVELAND -– The Warriors won Game 4 of the NBA Finals Friday night with a knockout fourth quarter, burying the weary Cavaliers under a storm of jump shots and free throws that turned a two-point lead into a 108-97 victory.
It was their work in the third quarter, though, that provided the Warriors with a powerful springboard to the victory that leaves them one win away from repeating as NBA champions.
It wasn’t that they played great defense; they did not. Nor did they shoot particularly well, only 37.5 percent. And though the third quarter is when guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to score 21 points, including 15 on five 3-pointers, that’s not what made those 12 minutes so magnificent.
No, this third quarter is one to be cherished for its conspicuous displays of trust and toughness, elements mostly missing in Game 3.
“Coming into that locker room,” forward said Harrison Barnes of the break at halftime, when the Warriors trailed 55-50, “it was similar to Game 3. We felt like this was our opportunity to either make a step forward or lose a game.
“We were determined to not let that happen.”
The Warriors came out and moved the ball marvelously, with each of their nine buckets being assisted. They committed one turnover, that being a shot-clock violation. And, against a strong rebounding team, they climbed the glass to outrebound Cleveland 12-8.
More than at any other time in this series, they came together and looked like the Warriors. They saw an opening and they sprinted right through it. Collectively.
“We were pleased at halftime,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We felt like we could do a few things better, but we were competing like crazy.”
The early labor turned into production in the third quarter, when they outscored the Cavs 29-22 and dramatically lowered the volume inside Quicken Loans Arena.
They looked like a team that has endured some competitive adversity, a team that knows that it takes to win a crucial game. The Warriors did not look “soft,” as Kerr labeled them in the Game 3 loss.
“I think everybody here would agree we were awfully soft in Game 3,” Kerr said. “We came out and competed much better tonight.”
The Warriors rode the momentum of the third quarter into the fourth. After a tip dunk by LeBron James gave the Cavs an 83-81 lead with 10:21 remaining, the Warriors reeled off a 12-1 run to take a 93-84 lead with 5:56 left.
The Cavs, meanwhile, were devolving into a two-man team. Irving took 18 shots after intermission and LeBron James took 15. Their eight teammates that took the court in the second half combined to put up five shots.
Game over, prizes awarded. The Warriors, while giving the Cavs their first home loss of the postseason, added to the records collections. Their 17 3-pointers is an NBA Finals record. The victory was their 88th overall this season, most in NBA history.
It all adds up to a 3-1 series lead. No team in NBA history, and there have been 32, has fumbled away a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
“This team’s been through a lot together,” forward Draymond Green said. “This team has great character and no matter what, we continue to battle. We know that if we continue to battle and defend, eventually our offense will get going. That’s the way we always approach things, and it works out for us.”
The contributions were plentiful. Curry scoring a game-high 38 points, Thompson putting in 25 and Barnes 14, including two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. Green delivered 9 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots and two steals. Andre Iguodala was, again, remarkable, coming up with 10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, a steal, a block and tremendous overall defense.
Yet it was in the third quarter that the Warriors’ determination peaked. They went for the win, and they settled for nothing less. They were physical and smart and relentless, which was enough to wilt the Cavaliers in their own house.