CLEVELAND - It took three games, but the NBA Finals finally delivered a compelling, competitive contest. Now it could take only one more game to end the series.
Thanks to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson finally making their presence felt in this championship series, the Golden State Warriors managed to come away with a 108-97 victory Friday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of this best-of-seven affair.
The victory gave Golden State a commanding 3-1 series lead, putting it one win from a second straight championship. The series picks up Monday night with Game 5 in Oakland.
Curry and Thompson had largely been in the shadows through the opening three games of the series. That was particularly true for Curry, the NBA's two-time reigning MVP, who entered Game 4 averaging a paltry 16 points and 4.3 assists, numbers that got him roundly criticized.
"I think that's a little bit exaggerated," Golden State Coach Steve Kerr said before the game. "We were up 2-0, and in one of the games they both played under 30 minutes and there wasn't much required from either one of them. You talk about a three-game sample size. So everyone's going crazy about, 'What's wrong with these guys?' Nothing's wrong. We're up 2-1. They both can play better, they know that, but we're not talking about a month-long slump here."
They proceeded to go out and prove Kerr right. Curry finished with 38 points and six assists while Thompson had 25 points to power the Warriors to a win on a night when, for the first time in this series, Golden State didn't get a massive edge from its bench.
With the Splash Brothers shooting the way they did in this game, though - going a combined 11-for-22 from three-point range - it didn't matter. Curry went 7-for-13 from the three-point line; the Cavaliers went 6-for-25 as a team.
"Staying confident in myself, my teammates staying confident in me, staying with it," Curry said of how he managed to turn things around. "The work's not done, obviously.
"I'm glad I could help out a little bit, but there's still a lot of work to do."
The Warriors put the game away with a 12-1 run over a six-and-a-half minute stretch in the fourth quarter, a surge that gave them a 93-84 lead after forcing the Cavaliers to miss nine straight shots between a LeBron James tip-in with 10:21 remaining and a Kyrie Irving layup with 3:44 left. Golden State forced Cleveland into one stagnant offensive possession after another, with the Cavaliers mostly settling for isolation plays for James and Irving that resulted in tough, contested looks.
Irving had 34 points and James had 25 to go with 13 rebounds and nine assists, but the empty possessions late proved costly.
"A lot less breakdowns than we had last game," Curry said of Golden State's defensive effort. "We checked the three-point line and all around toughness, communication and effort.
"We have to rebound better to close out this series but we gave ourselves a chance to close it out."
Curry had his MVP moment with 3:22 remaining, when he answered Irving's layup with a three-pointer from the top of the key to push Golden State's lead to 96-86. He then hit a circus layup with 54.4 seconds remaining to cap off the night.
After three boring blowouts to begin this series, this one offered up a taut matchup. With 18 lead changes and 14 ties, it was the thrilling spectacle this series had been sorely lacking.
Following two days of speculation about what Kerr and Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue would do with their lineups, they did exactly what they were expected. With Kevin Love cleared to return after missing Game 3 because of a concussion, Lue brought him off the bench and kept Richard Jefferson in the starting lineup with Cleveland coming off a 30-point victory.
Unlike Game 3, though, neither team got off to a big lead. While Cleveland wound up leading for large stretches of the first three quarters, there wasn't a double-digit advantage for either side until Curry's pivotal three-pointer.
Curry and Thompson may have done most of the heavy lifting, but they did get some help. Harrison Barnes had 14 points and eight rebounds, Andre Iguodala had 10 points, six rebounds and seven assists - bolstering his burgeoning candidacy for a second straight Finals MVP award - and Draymond Green had his typical stat-stuffing line: nine points, 12 rebounds, four assists, two steals and three blocks.
Green and James also got in a scuffle with 2:42 remaining in the game, getting tangled up on a Cavaliers offensive possession and eventually being called for double fouls after being separated. Neither was hit with a technical, though, leaving Green still two shy of a mandatory one-game suspension.
Love came off the bench for the first time in several years, providing 11 points and five rebounds in 25 minutes.
But the Warriors won the day, and are now one win away from winning a title because of it.
Tim Bontemps is The Post's National NBA writer.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Tim Bontemps · SPORTS, BASKETBALL · Jun 10, 2016 - 11:13 PM