OAKLAND (California) • Steve Kerr, the coach of the Golden State Warriors, told his players they ought to feel pressure.
How could they not, ahead of Game 7 of the National Basketball Association Finals at Oracle Arena, with a chance to cement their place as one of the league's greatest teams against a fearsome opponent like the Cleveland Cavaliers?
"If you don't feel pressure in a Game 7, you're probably not human," Kerr said. "We are human, so when you go from 3-1 up to 3-3, it's disappointing. But you take stock. We like our chances."
So too does Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, who said: "We know it's a big stage, but our guys are ready for the challenge."
None more so than LeBron James, who leads all players in points (181), assists (51), steals (16) and blocked shots (13), and is tied with his team-mate Tristan Thompson for the most rebounds (68) in this series. James is shooting 51.4 per cent from the field and 40 per cent from three-point range. He has scored 41 points in each of the last two games, both wins for Cleveland.
In the process, he has twice coaxed the Cavs away from the brink of elimination - a remarkable feat given the stakes and Golden State's dominance up to this point.
STARS IN HIS EYES
To lead the Finals in every statistical category, it's amazing. I try not to get star-struck with watching.
J.R. SMITH, Cleveland Cavaliers guard, on the feats of his team-mate LeBron James in the Finals so far.
The spotlight can be searing for some. The Warriors won a record 73 regular-season games but could suffer the worst choke in championship history.
And the NBA's scoring leader, Warriors star Stephen Curry, admitted the season would be a failure without the title.
"We've had two chances already and haven't got it done," he said. "So if we come up short, we'll all be very, very disappointed. No two ways around that."
"I need to play my best game of the year, if not my career, because of what the stakes are," he added.
The Warriors went the entire regular season without losing consecutive games, and they have never lost three straight under Kerr in his two seasons as coach. That is what is required of the Cavs now - three straight to close out the Finals and claim their first championship in franchise history.
No team have come back to win the title after trailing 1-3 in the Finals. The Cavs would be the first.
But while James noted that, "I came back for a reason - and that is to bring a championship to the city of Cleveland", in contrast to Curry, he remained calm about the demands of the moment, noting: "At the end of the day, I go out every single night and give everything I've got to the game. The game has always given back to me. So I'm OK with whatever."
It has, to some extent, become a series of attrition. The Warriors lost Andrew Bogut, their starting centre, for the series when he injured his knee in Game 5. In Game 6, Andre Iguodala tweaked his back in the first half. The Cavs' Kyrie Irving injured his left foot in the second half.
Each player is important to his team's title hopes - Iguodala defends James, and Irving pushes the pace.
The Warriors plan to get physical with James early and often.
"Put a body on him," said Warriors forward Draymond Green. "He has to feel us from the jump. Can't let him get into rhythm."
The Warriors are no strangers to adversity themselves. In the Western Conference Finals, they rebounded from a 1-3 series deficit against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Cavaliers have presented another set of challenges.
But Curry insisted: "We're a resilient team that's ready for this opportunity."
"The word everyone likes to use in sports is pressure," James said. "I don't really get involved in it. But I guess in layman's terms, it's pressure. I think it's an opportunity to do something special."
NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
GOLDEN STATE V CLEVELAND
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