CLEVELAND (AP) – Kyrie Irving’s now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t, ankle-breaking crossover dribble happened at almost the exact spot where his first NBA Finals ended brutally last year with his left leg buckling and kneecap shattering.
He didn’t crumble this time, using his left hand to keep his balance before switching hands, stopping, whirling and dropping a contested fadeaway shot over Golden State’s Klay Thompson, who shook his head.
In the biggest game of his life, Irving astounded.
Dropping shots all over the floor, Irving matched teammate LeBron James by scoring 41 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers kept their season alive with a 112-97 win in Game 5 of the NBA Finals over the Warriors, who missed suspended forward Draymond Green and their first chance to close out their history-making season with a second straight title.
Irving wouldn’t let it happen, delivering a spectacular effort that fulfilled his potential and promise.
“Probably one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen live,” said James, who joined Irving as the only teammates in finals history to score 40 points in the same game.
With Green barred from Oracle Arena and forced to watch the game in a suite next door at Oakland Coliseum, the Warriors lacked their most essential defensive player. Irving and James took advantage and extended a series that has defied logic and predictions, and could go the distance.
A little splashy, Irving and James were Cleveland’s Crash Brothers, wrecking Golden State’s plans to pop champagne and kiss the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Irving, who misfired during Games 1 and 2 at Oracle Arena, was on target from the start in Game 5. He made 17 of 24 shots, including 5 of 7 3-pointers and several twisting layups on which he somehow coaxed the ball through the rim.
The 24-year-old was at his best in the fourth quarter, upstaging even James by scoring 12 points – 10 in a stretch of 1:57 – to help the Cavs send the series back to Ohio and Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday night. Irving may have to pull off something similar if the Cavs intend to force a Game 7 and maybe become the first team to overcome a 3-1 finals deficit.