With the potential of falling behind three games in the series, the Cavaliers seized control from the opening minute and never relented during a convincing 120-90 victory over Golden State Wednesday night.
Such an effort was needed to derail the all-time winningest team from sweeping the NBA Finals.
Following a pair of embarrassing losses in Oakland, the Cavaliers needed to find a way to overcome the most difficult opponent LeBron James had ever faced during his Hall-of-Fame career, as the Warriors had captured seven consecutive victories over Cleveland, dating back to the championship round a year ago.
Instead of facing elimination Friday night, James — along with an outstanding effort from the rest of the team — can even the series following a 32 point, 11 rebound, six assist, two block, one steal effort from the four-time league MVP.
The contributions from rest of the team, in the absence of starting power forward Kevin Love (out with a concussion) proved to be critical.
“It’s never about us versus their starting five. It’s about the whole 15 group. Our 15 guys versus their 15 guys and who can execute as close to 48 minutes as possible,” James said. “So we just want to try to play our game. We finally got back to our game tonight, and it started with the floor general to my left.”
Sitting next to James during the post game press conference was point guard Kyrie Irving.
A return home to Quicken Loans Arena was a welcome change for both Irving and the Cavaliers.
Cleveland has won each of its eight post season home games in 2016 and Irving shook off a miserable start to the Finals as he totaled 30 points, eight assists, four rebounds and a steal.
The Warriors managed to limit the effectiveness Irving had during the first two games of his series, but his precise shooting in the opening quarter provided a lift the Cavaliers wouldn’t surrender for the entire night.
The attack was relentless, as Cleveland scored the first nine points of the night, with four coming from Irving, and only allowed Andrew Bogut to score during the first seven minutes of the night for the Warriors.
As Golden State struggled to find its shooting touch, Irving was dazzling from all over the court, slashing to the rim for layups and connecting from beyond the arc to finish the first quarter with 16 point, six more than he scored in all of Game 2.
When Irving wasn’t scoring the ball himself, he was setting up easy looks for teammates at the rim.
“I wanted to see something great,” Irving said. “I threw it very, very — you know, some people may say it’s a bad pass, but I wanted to see something great, and for him to do that, it was awesome. It was awesome.”
The eight assists Irving dished out were three more than he totaled in the first two games of the series.
For the first time all series, Cleveland connected on more 3-pointers than the Warriors, led by shooting guard J.R. Smith.
After connecting on just 3-of-9 attempts from the field during the first two games of the series, Smith erupted for 20 points, as he hit five shots from 3-point range.
Seemingly every player was hot from anywhere on the floor, as Cleveland shot 52.7 percent from the field and knocked down 48 percent of its 3-point attempts.
Entering Game 3, the talk was about how the Cavaliers are preparing to become the modern day version of the Buffalo Bills, a team that came close, but never won a championship.
Now, the team is deflecting credit for leading the Cavaliers to a critical victory.
“I didn’t change my approach, and I didn’t take over this game,” James said. “Kyrie pretty much took over the game, especially early and late. He closed the game out. He started the game, and I just sprinkled in, you know, my production along the whole game.”