LEBRON, CAVALIERS ON THE ROPES AFTER GAME 4 LOSS TO WARRIORS
CLEVELAND (AP) -- LeBron James said Game 4 was another "do-or-die" scenario for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
He can only hope he was wrong.
The NBA Finals have all but slipped away from James and the Cavaliers, an offensive disaster of a fourth quarter their undoing in what became a 108-97 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 on Friday night. Cleveland now trails the series 3-1, a deficit that no team has ever successfully overcome in the championship round.
Game 5 is Monday in Oakland, where the defending champion Warriors are 50-3 this season. If Cleveland is going to pull off this miracle, it'll need to win there twice.
So it's not over.
It only seems that way, and James' all-too-familiar June nightmare is one loss away from being officially complete - though he certainly didn't sound Friday night that the series was over.
"We feel like the chips have been stacked up against us all year anyway," James said.
This is James' seventh trip to the finals, and barring the most improbable of comebacks this will be his fifth time watching someone else hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy. He'll likely be blamed for yet another setback, even though he's averaging 24.7 points, 11 rebounds and 9.3 assists in this series. He told the Cavaliers to follow his lead, took the blame when they fell behind 2-0 in the series, has tried to say and do all the right things.
"We're just trying our best," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "He's a freight train out there. We have certain rules and we're trying to follow our rules ... but no matter what you do, he's going to have a huge stat line and he's going to impact the game 1,000 different ways."
True, but the Warriors are one win from denying him again. It went six games last year when the Cavaliers didn't have Kevin Love for the entirety of the series and Kyrie Irving for most of the matchup. This one could end in five even though Irving has played well for much of this matchup and Love returned to the lineup for Game 4 after missing essentially six quarters with a concussion.
"If you don't think we can win, don't get on the plane," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said, when asked what the approach is now. "I just think we've got to come back anyway, so we might as well come back and play. We've got to come back to Cleveland, don't we?"
Cleveland was threatening to take control early in the third of Game 4, leading by eight. Less than 30 seconds later, the lead was down to two.
Stephen Curry 3-pointer. Splash.
Klay Thompson 3-pointer. Splash.
The Warriors suddenly had life. Cleveland's lead was 83-81 when James scored with 10:21 left, and it was about seven minutes before the Cavaliers managed another field goal. A 12-1 run in the fourth put the Warriors on top for good, and that 11-point margin was the exact difference between the teams when time expired.
"I went with my best players in the fourth quarter ... and it didn't work," Lue said.
All James could do then was glumly slap hands with a few of his teammates, his face hardly showing any emotion. Fans started leaving long before the final horn, quite possibly for the final time this season.
The Eastern Conference championship banner for this season is already swaying from the rafters in Quicken Loans Arena, and "2015-16" has been added to the banner displaying Central Division titles next to that one.
James delivered those. The one he wants most may be out of reach, but the Warriors aren't writing him off.
"At any moment, the guy can just turn into an uncontainable player," Warriors guard Andre Iguodala said. "You've got to have the appropriate fear."
A team that calls the Cavs' arena home might win a championship this weekend, though it won't exactly become worldwide news if the Lake Erie Monsters - the Columbus Blue Jackets' affiliate in the American Hockey League - finish off a sweep of the Hershey Bears and hoist the Calder Cup on Saturday night.
It'll be nice, but it's not the title Cleveland craves.
Since the Cleveland Browns won their last football title in 1964 - the championship game wasn't even known as the Super Bowl then - Cleveland has experienced 147 NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL opening days with title dreams that ultimately were dashed. (Yes, an NHL team was briefly here.) Over that span, 56 different franchises in the four biggest U.S. sports leagues have at least one championship.
James returned to Cleveland after four successful years in Miami to end that drought.
His summer might start as early as Monday, the drought still there. But for now, all James is thinking about is Game 5.
"We've got to come in with the mindset that our coaching staff will give us a great gameplan," James said. "And we'll execute that."