Cleveland, OH (SportsNetwork.com) – Seconds before the opening tip, LeBron James looked over at Jim Brown and bowed to the legendary running back sitting in the front row.
The Hall of Famer last quelled the hunger of title-starved Cleveland 51 years ago.
James has the city halfway from its long-awaited celebration.
Don’t talk about that championship with Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt, however.
“Long way to go before we start talking about that,” he said. “Everything is still very much wide open.”
James was two assists shy from another triple-double, recording 40 points and 12 rebounds, and the Cavaliers held off the Golden State Warriors 96-91 in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
Cleveland nearly squandered a 20-point, third-quarter cushion Tuesday night after letting an 11-point lead slip away in the final three-plus minutes of regulation in Game 2 before winning in overtime.
Stephen Curry hit a 3-pointer to trim the Golden State deficit to a point with 2:45 left, but the Cavs scored the next seven points and kept the Warriors at bay the rest of the way to take a 2-1 series lead.
“Golden State made some shots, which they’re capable of doing,” Blatt said of the Warriors’ comeback. “We weren’t as aggressive.”
Game 4 is Thursday in Cleveland.
James, coming off an NBA Finals career-high 44-point performance in Game 1 and his fifth NBA Finals triple-double in Game 2, was 14-of-34 from the field and sunk all six of his crucial foul shots in the final minute.
“I don’t like to shoot high-volume shots, but it’s the Finals,” James said. “I’m just trying to do whatever it takes.”
Matthew Dellavedova, again starting for the injured Kyrie Irving, netted 20 points and Tristan Thompson added 10 points and 13 boards for Cleveland.
Curry, who missed 18 of his 23 shots in Game 2, continued to struggle in the first half of Game 3, but found his shooting stroke over the final 24 minutes. He scored three points on 1-of-6 shooting prior to the break before pouring in 24 on 9-of-14 efficiency over the last two quarters. Seventeen of those second-half points came in the fourth.
“He got aggressive and started making shots,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Curry in the fourth.
The Cavaliers again subdued the potent offense of the Warriors, who led the NBA in scoring, field-goal percentage and 3-point shooting. Cleveland held them to under 60 points through three quarters again after Golden State had surpassed that mark in each game prior to the Finals.
“It’s not satisfying when they end with 91 (points),” James said. “We had a lot of mistakes in the fourth quarter.”
Golden State shot just 35.4 percent (23-of-65) and made 5-of-20 from beyond the arc over the first three frames before charging back in it in the fourth.
“We became the aggressors,” Curry said of the final frame. “For us to win this series, we have to play that way the whole game.”
The Warriors netted the first eight points of the fourth when consecutive treys from Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala trimmed the gap to 72-63.
After Curry’s triple got Golden State within 81-80, Dellavedova’s three-point play — a foul-line floater over Curry — preceded James’ 3 that quickly extended the Cleveland margin back to six.
It was 92-83 in favor of the Cavs with 51 ticks on the clock after James knocked down a pair from the foul line. Curry, though, single-handedly clawed the Warriors within a possession with a second 3 in the final minute.
His drifting triple from the left wing made it 94-91, but James made two more bonus shots at the other end and Iguodala’s right corner trey was off the mark in the waning seconds to seal the outcome.
Earlier, Cleveland led 24-20 following a quarter of play and James Jones nailed a left wing triple with less than a second remaining in the half to stake the Cavs to a 44-37 margin at the break.
Dellavedova’s right wing 3 and floater inside the right elbow on consecutive Cavaliers possessions gave them their first double-digit cushion, 51-41, early in the third.
That bulge reached 20 near the end of the third. James found J.R. Smith for a right corner 3, then hit a cutting Timofey Mozgov down the paint a possession later to cap off a 9-0 spurt for a 68-48 Cleveland advantage.
“I thought in the third quarter we were hanging our heads a little bit,” Kerr said.
The Cavs were up 72-55 after three.
James has scored the most points in the first three games of the NBA Finals. He has 123 of Cleveland’s 291 in the series so far. Rick Barry (1967) is second with 122 … Curry was 7-of-13 from long distance after going 2-of-15 in Game 2 … Curry’s five 3s in the fourth quarter tied Ray Allen’s NBA Finals record for the most triples in a period … The Cavaliers shot 46.1 percent (35-of-76) from the floor.