CLEVELAND (AP) — Stephen Curry got back to dropping deep shots, chomping on that mouthpiece and even barking at LeBron James.
Hardly himself through the first three games of the NBA Finals, Curry silenced his critics by pushing the Golden State Warriors within one win of making more history in this season of seasons.
The two-time MVP found his long-range touch and scored 38 points, Klay Thompson added 25 and the Warriors rebounded from a big loss by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 108-97 on Friday night in Game 4.
Curry scored just 48 total points in the first three games, but broke out with seven 3-pointers and Thompson, his Splash Brother, drained four as the Warriors took a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
The Warriors weren’t surprised Curry bounced back.
“All the slander,” forward Draymond Green said of the criticism directed at his teammate. “He’s a competitor. He’s been under a heavy microscope, and rightfully so. Two-time MVP, you’re expected to have a great game in the finals. He struggled the first three, tonight he was our guy.”
Golden State, which made history with a 73-win regular season, can become the seventh franchise to win consecutive titles with a victory in Game 5 on Monday night at rip-roaring Oracle Arena, where they are 50-3 this season.
“Business as usual,” Curry said. “We answered the bell. We got back to who we are as a team.”
And Curry got back to being Curry.
“He’s a competitor. He’s been under a heavy microscope, and rightfully so. Two-time MVP, you’re expected to have a great game in the finals. He struggled the first three, tonight he was our guy.” — Draymond Green
“He’s Stephen Curry,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s the MVP for a reason. He doesn’t have the size and strength to dominate a game physically, so he has to dominate with his skill and that’s not an easy thing to do because your shot sometimes isn’t going to go in.
“Tonight they went in.”
After blowing out the Warriors by 30 in Game 3, the Cavaliers blew their chance to even the series. However, James and Co. didn’t enough to contain Curry, Thompson or Harrison Barnes, who made four 3s and added 14 points.
The Warriors set an NBA Finals record with 17 3-pointers.
“They got going,” Kerr said. “Sooner or later it’s going to happen. You can’t keep guys like that down forever.”
Kyrie Irving scored 34 points for the Cavs, who need to win Game 5 or they’ll finish as runner-up to the Warriors for the second year in a row. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the finals.
Still, James has confidence the Cavs can bring the series back to Cleveland for Game 6.
“Let’s get one,” he said of his mindset heading out to California. “We’ve already got to take a flight home anyways, so we might as well come home with a win and play on our home floor again.”
James added 25 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists, but the superstar also had seven turnovers and was too passive at times. Kevin Love returned to the lineup after missing Game 3 with a concussion and added 11 points off the bench.
Cleveland, which came in 8-0 at home in the playoffs, went 6:36 without a field goal in the fourth quarter, the kind of scoring drought no team can afford against the potent Warriors.
With Golden State leading 88-84, Curry got loose for a backdoor layup and Barnes followed with a dagger 3-pointer, deflating a crowd of 20,000-plus fans clinging to hope that this would be the year Cleveland would win its first pro sports championship since 1964.
But this seems to be the Warriors’ year – from start to finish – and they can join an elite group of teams by winning Monday in front of their own fans.
“If you can’t get up for that there’s something wrong with you,” Thompson said. “We can’t wait to get to Oracle.”
Off the mark in the first three games, the Splash Brothers found the pool in the third quarter.
“He’s the MVP for a reason. He doesn’t have the size and strength to dominate a game physically, so he has to dominate with his skill and that’s not an easy thing to do because your shot sometimes isn’t going to go in … Tonight they went in.” — Steve Kerr
Thompson made four 3-pointers and Curry knocked down three as the pair combined for 19 of Golden State’s 29 points in the period. Their arrival was a welcomed relief for the Warriors, who had managed to bury the Cavs in the first two games despite minimal production from their two stars.
But with Golden State’s golden season being threatened again, Curry and Thompson stepped up the way they did in the Western Conference finals.
When James was introduced before the game, he went through his usual handshake ritual with his teammates before telling Irving, “Be special.”
Cleveland’s point guard was terrific. Golden State’s was just better.
Green has found himself in another postseason mess.
The Warriors forward exchanged words with James in the fourth quarter and appeared to hit Cleveland’s superstar in the groin area. James believes the NBA will take a look at the play.
Green, who kicked Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams in the groin during the Western Conference finals, would be suspended for Game 5 if the league retroactively assesses a flagrant-1 foul.
Irving and James took 33 of Cleveland’s 38 shots in the second half and made 16 of the team’s 18 field goals.
Warriors: Recorded their 88th overall win this season, breaking the league record they shared with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. .. Curry’s seven 3s fell one short of the finals record held by Ray Allen (2010). … Their nine turnovers matched their playoff low. … One of Kerr’s first substitutions was James Michael McAdoo, who had not played a single minute in the first three games.
Cavaliers: Love came off the bench for the first time since 2010 with Minnesota. … F Richard Jefferson, who provided such a boost in Game 3, scored just 3 points in 25 minutes. … Irving played with a wrap on his right thumb after hurting it in the first quarter.