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LeBron leads Cavaliers one step closer to historic feat

With two straight victories, and 41 more points from their star, the Cavs can become the first team to rally from 3-1 down in The Finals

POSTED: Jun 17, 2016 7:54 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


Game 6: Cavaliers 115, Warriors 101

LeBron James scores 41 points as the Cavaliers knot the Finals at 3-3.

— LeBron blocks Steph. LeBron taunts Steph. Steph winds up fouling out, earning a technical foul and getting banished early to the dressing room.

The sequence of events didn't quite fire that way in rapid succession late Thursday night, but that was the bottom line on Cleveland's impressive 115-101 victory over Golden State in Game 6 of the 2016 Finals. While the Warriors unraveled and Steph Curry ultimately melted down to earn his single-T ejection from ref Jason Phillips, James and the Cavaliers went in the exact opposite direction.

They looked and mostly stayed masterful in pulling even in the series, something only the Knicks in 1951 and the Lakers in 1966 ever managed to do after falling behind 3-1 in The Finals. None of the 32 teams that preceded Cleveland into that hole ever got all the way back to win the NBA title, but the Cavaliers have a chance now.

Nightly Notable: LeBron James

LeBron James scores 41 points for the second night in a row, finishing with 11 assists, eight rebounds and three blocks.

James gave them that chance.

The Cavaliers' star scored 41 points again, matching his Game 5 total as the first player to score 40 in consecutive Finals games since Shaquille O'Neal in 2000. He scored nine in the first quarter to rattle Golden State early and 17 in the fourth to douse the Warriors' short-lived notion of a comeback.

James scored the first 10 for Cleveland in that final quarter, repeatedly and firmly saying no as the Warriors -- after pulling within 80-71 with a rush to close the third quarter -- ran out of time, rhythm, energy and chances.

The Cavaliers' leader had his jump shot working, all the way to step-back, 3-point range. He made 16 of his 27 shots overall and had eight rebounds, 11 assists, four steals, just one turnover and three blocked shots.

One of those blocks was the one that sent James striding off, smirking as he said a few words to Curry, while the two-time MVP absorbed the indignities both physical and verbal until, finally, he vented in Phillips' direction. Neither player would report even in vague terms what was said, but at least one diligent lip reader on social media made a pretty convincing case for a variation on the ol' don't-bring-that-weak-stuff-in-here chide. Updated, as you'd expect, for an R-rated audience if not for the millions watching at home.

Something like, "C'mon man, stop man, [bleep] outta here man."

NBA Finals Game 6 Report's Sekou Smith and John Schuhmann recap Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

In this Finals of blowouts -- the first in league history that a Finals has gone six games deep without even one single-digit outcome -- James was the blasting cap Thursday. Seemed about right, too. This was Cleveland's final home game of the season. It was the final glimpse the fans at Quicken Loans Arena would have at the heroes who will end not just a Cavaliers drought but the city of Cleveland's 52-year desperation for a major sports championship -- or at a roster that, should the Cavs lose, inevitably will undergo changes.

James, who carries around the franchise's burden and his own legacy issues, responded like someone who already has settled those matters in his favor.

"With our season on the line," Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said, "at the end of the third quarter he said, 'I'm not coming out.' I didn't have any intention on taking him out anyway. I don't care what y'all say. We're going to ride him.

Cavaliers on Game 6 Win

Tyronn Lue, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson talk about getting the clutch Game 6 six win.

"He had another unbelievable game. 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."

Another 41, please. Or something very close to it, if Cleveland is going to pull off what NBA historians claimed was impossible -- and do it against the 73-9 Warriors, the greatest regular-season team ever.

Klay Thompson, who had a streaky 25 points for Golden State, saw up close and personal, while trying to defend him, how aggressively James was rolling.

"I mean, he's making his three ball, shooting 50 percent from three the last two games, maybe above," Thompson said. "His jumper's going in. We've got to do a better job of contesting at the rim with him. Hopefully he's off Sunday. But at the same time, we can let LeBron go for 40, but we can't have Tristan Thompson going 6-for-6 from the field, and J.R. Smith hitting four threes. That killed us. It's about limiting what their other guys do as well."

GameTime: LeBron James Game 6

The GameTime crew discuss the level of play LeBron James brought to Game 6.

The problem with that is, the other Cavs eat off James' game. He's either setting them up for alley-oop dunks and layups or they're doing likewise. That's why Lue was determined to have the ball in James' hands when the outcome still was in doubt.

"Let him facilitate," Lue said, "get guys open shots because we had a lot of shooting on the perimeter, and it opened up the floor for LeBron to get into the paint, score some, and also distribute."

This was, certainly, about more than Xs and Os. The Cavaliers for the past 23 months have been a LeBron James production, Cleveland 2.0, as he tries again -- with his own rings tucked away, lessons both happy and rough available to draw on -- to bring home a championship.

Key to the process is the word he's done and still does with teammates such as Thompson and Kyrie Irving, his biggest helpers Thursday. They can tell when James is in this mode and while most of the basketball world cringes on such nights, they get to bask.

"You try not to sit back and watch because you're trying to make sure that you create space for him and able to give him outlets when he needs it," Irving said. "But I mean, when a guy's got it going like that, I mean, it's just unbelievable to be a part of.

June 16: Top 5

Check out the Top 5 plays from Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

"I'm not going to say exactly what he said to us on the bench, but we kind of knew what he was up to and what he was trying to do out there for us offensively. It was just stay aggressive, stay aggressive."

Thompson went more macro, explaining how James' performances start way at the beginning and sharing some of the mentoring he has shown this group.

"It started last year after Labor Day," Thompson said. "LeBron sent a text to everyone, 'Let's get in early and start training. Let's get ready for the season.' And we walk in and he's in a full-drenched sweat an hour before the meeting time.

"So for a young player and for me and Kyrie, the first couple years not being the best and being some tough years, seeing, in my eyes, one of the best players ever in a full drench of sweat working out, it gives you motivation as a young player. It shows that if he's in the gym working his tail off -- and you guys know how good he is -- I have no excuse not to be in the gym, getting extra work, getting extra shots, free throws, whatever it may be. And just the way he plays it elevates everyone's game. I'm blessed."

GameTime: What To Expect In Game 7

The GameTime crew breaks down what to look for in Sunday's decisive Game 7 between the Cavaliers and Warriors.

The Warriors are perplexed, or at least a little on their heels. They are not peaking at the right time. But that guy playing for the Cavs, he is.

"I guess we just take one day at a time," James said. "We haven't rushed to get to a Game 5. We didn't rush to get to a Game 6 today. And we won't rush to get to a Game 7 on Sunday. ... One more game left, and you guys are going to give it all you've got, we're going to give it all we've got, and the Warriors will do the same, and we'll live with the results. That's how you go about it.

"But we won't rush it. I won't rush it. I'm going to sleep very well tonight. I'll sleep very well the following night, watch a couple movies and just get ready to play."

The Warriors had better be watching film.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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