2018-05-02 11:44:03
Cavaliers and Warriors Take Big Steps to Another Rematch

11:44, May 02 99 0

This was supposed to be the year that time ran out for the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

After three consecutive seasons with the best record in basketball and two N.B.A. titles, the Golden State Warriors finished seven games behind the Houston Rockets in the West. Their star Stephen Curry missed the end of the season and the start of the playoffs with a knee injury.

In the East, the Cleveland Cavaliers increasingly looked like a one-man team, with LeBron James carrying them to victories. They could manage only the fourth seed, and squeaked by the Indiana Pacers in the opening round of the playoffs in seven games, despite being outscored by 40 points in total.

But after Tuesday’s games, a fourth straight Cavs-Warriors N.B.A. finals looked a lot more likely.

The Warriors took a two-games-to-none lead over the New Orleans Pelicans, and, most important, welcomed back Curry.

Curry played for the first time since March 23, and it was as if he never left. He hit a 3-pointer 11 seconds after checking in, and went on to score 28 points in 27 minutes. The Warriors earned a 121-116 victory, outscoring the Pelicans by 26 points when Curry was in the game.

The Cavaliers looked overmatched at times against the top-seeded Raptors in Toronto, but again pulled a victory from somewhere to take a one-game-to-none lead.

It helped that the Raptors suddenly stopped scoring when it counted most. Leading by 14 at one point, they shot 5 for 25 in the fourth quarter of a game they seemed to have won. In an agonizing sequence starting with seven seconds left and the score tied, Fred VanVleet missed a 3, and DeMar DeRozan, C.J. Miles and Jonas Valanciunas all missed fairly easy put-backs.

The Cavaliers had never led in regulation, but now they had forced overtime, from which they emerged with a 113-112 victory. “Considering the circumstances, we definitely stole one,” Coach Tyronn Lue said after the game.

Disturbingly for the Raptors and any future Cavaliers opponents, they did it without James shooting especially well by his standards. He had a triple double, but his .400 shooting percentage was a playoff low this season, and he was 1 for 8 on 3-point attempts. Making up the difference from long range was J.R. Smith (5 of 6 from 3) and Kyle Korver (5 of 12). Jeff Green and Tristan Thompson contributed effectively from the bench.

If James’s much reviled supporting cast starts consistently contributing like that, the East may be there for the taking again. “My teammates were unbelievable tonight,” James said. “They were there when I wasn’t at my best.”

Another Cavs-Warriors finals rematch is not a lock. The mighty Rockets still loom to challenge the Warriors in the West; they have cruised to a 5-1 playoff record so far with ease.

James can’t be expected to keep carrying his team to improbable victories, and even if the Cavs have the Raptors’ number, the Boston Celtics or the Philadelphia Sixers will be formidable opposition in the East final.

But those who were writing off history repeating may want to think again.