With another clutch shot, Kyrie Irving took the Warriors on a trip down memory lane.
Irving dropped a short, turnaround jumper over Klay Thompson with 3.4 seconds left as the Cleveland Cavaliers rallied just the way they did in June’s NBA Finals to defeat Golden State 109-108 on Sunday in a marquee Christmas matchup that more than lived up to the hype.
Down by 14 early in the fourth quarter, the Cavs chipped away and then put the ball in the hands of Irving, whose step-back 3-pointer over Stephen Curry on June 19 helped seal Game 7 and gave Cleveland its first major pro sports championship since 1964.
This time, Irving went deep in the lane before spinning and making his shot over Thompson, one of the league’s best defenders.
“The kid is special,” LeBron James said of his teammate. “It was never in doubt.”
Golden State had one last chance but Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 36 points in his first game in the league’s hottest rivalry, lost his balance coming off a screen and couldn’t get off a shot as time expired.
Durant felt he was fouled by Richard Jefferson.
“I was trying to make a move,” he said. “I didn’t fall on my own.”
James scored 31 points with a season-high 13 rebounds, Irving added 25 points and Kevin Love 20 for the Cavs, who were down 3-1 in the Finals before storming back to stun a Warriors team that won 73 games during the regular season, but came up one victory short of winning their second straight title.
Thompson added 24, Draymond Green 16 and Curry 15 — on 4 of 11 shooting — for the Warriors, who had their winning streak stopped at seven and fell to 9-1 against Eastern Conference teams.
The biggest present under the tree for basketball fans this holiday was filled with drama, intensity and more than a few moments that sparked reminders of last season’s brilliant Finals.
“It lived up to what everyone wanted it to,” James said.
Irving drained a 3 from the wing that looked a lot like the one he made on June 19, but his bucket over Thompson had a higher degree of difficulty.
“That’s a really hard shot,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I thought Klay played tremendous defense. You don’t do anything different.”
The Warriors set up a game-winning chance for Durant, but he stumbled with pressure applied by Jefferson and fell to the floor and watched helplessly as Cleveland’s fans roared and Cavs coach Tyronn Lue clapped and screamed.
“We all think we’re fouled on every play in every single game,” Jefferson said. “That’s why I say I know the referees have a very hard job. I switched to his body. He looked like he lost his balance. He was trying to regain his balance and as soon as I saw him start to stumble, I ran off.”
The teams will meet again Jan. 16 and then not again unless they make it back to the Finals — a “three-quel” that would be the first in league history.
To remind their guests of what happened in June, the Cavs left a door propped open just down the hallway from Golden State’s locker room where a large photo of James’ game-changing, career-defining block of Andre Iguodala in Game 7 was on display.
The picture had been doctored with a Cavs championship ring taped over James’ left index finger.
If there was any doubt that this game meant more than the other 81 to both squads and fan bases, Green took care of that in the opening minutes.
After being called for his second personal foul, Green stormed off the floor, cursing with every step on his way to the bench. Green, whose suspension from Game 5 of the Finals helped swing the series to Cleveland, was slapped with a technical and several of his teammates came over to calm him down before things got worse.