CLEVELAND — The celebrating after Game 4 was done by Cavaliers fans, not Golden State players, their families or anyone else dressed in blue and gold who came looking for a historic party.
“Cavs in 7! Cavs in 7!” Cleveland fans chanted as they walked toward the exits.
Yes, the NBA Finals are right where they were last year and could still end with the same result.
But it seems like an even more improbable task than it did last year.
The Cavaliers and Warriors, who have tangled for three consecutive Junes, headed back to the West Coast on Saturday after Cleveland’s record-setting 137-116 victory. Kyrie Irving said he was aware the Warriors wanted to finish a 16-0 romp through the postseason and celebrate a title on the Cavs’ court, just as they did in 2015.
But Draymond Green said Golden State is eager to end this one back in the Bay.
“We have a golden opportunity going home on Monday to close this thing out. I’ve won one on the road. I want to see how it feels to win at home,” he said. “We have to come out with some fire and try it get done.”
They couldn’t do it in this same situation last year.
Golden State brought a 3-1 lead back west but then took the floor without Green, who was suspended for accumulation of flagrant foul points, and couldn’t stop LeBron James or Irving. The Cavaliers won that game to start what became the biggest comeback in NBA Finals history.
Now they need the biggest ever in the NBA’s postseason.
No team has erased a 3-0 deficit in any series. Then again, few had a player like James, who set an NBA Finals record with his ninth triple-double in Game 4, or Irving, who scored 40 points.
The Warriors are no longer unbeaten in the playoffs, but James said they still have the Cavaliers where they want them.
“Listen, at the end of the day, we want to just try to put ourself in position to play another game, and we did that tonight and hopefully we can do it Monday night where we can come back here,” James said.
He has won a road game in 29 consecutive series, another of his many NBA postseason records, but the challenge now is far greater than what the Cavs faced last year. Golden State will be at full strength this time, and while the Warriors have finally lost a game, they haven’t lost any confidence.
“When you have home court ideally you take care of business at home and get a split on the road. So we’re in a great spot, and now we have to capitalize,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “But last year is last year, this year is this year. I’m pretty sure Draymond won’t get suspended for Game 5. Maybe he will. I don’t know. But we’ll go back and tee it up again.”
As great as James, Irving and the Cavs’ shooters were when they scored 86 points in the first half and made 24 3-pointers, Golden State still showed signs of getting into the game even on off nights for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. They don’t figure to shoot as poorly again at home, nor should the Cavaliers expect to have a 39-point advantage from behind the arc.
“I can’t foresee them coming to Oracle and hitting 24 3s,” Green said.
James said after Game 3 that it takes an A-plus-plus game to beat the Warriors, and the Cavs delivered one Friday. But they have to do it four straight times to keep the crown that they brought home from California last June.
The Warriors carried their collapse with them throughout this season, and they will surely hear more 3-1 chatter over the next two days as some pressure shifts to them while the series moves to their home.
But they didn’t have Green then and they have Kevin Durant now, two reasons why the Warriors believe they will finish the job this time.
The unbeaten talk is gone. A chance for a championship remains in their grasp.
“Sixteen and one sounds pretty damn good anyway,” Thompson said. “Forget about that undefeated talk or whatever. It’s time to put on a show for our fans in Oakland and the rest of the Bay. Try to close out at Oracle.”