James shows why he's the king

Another big play keeps Cavs alive; slumping Warriors stung by Curry's ejection in Game 6

For the past two games in this enthralling National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers had their backs against the wall - and swung furiously back.

Down 1-3 in the series, another defeat would have prolonged their city's 52-year major sports title-winning drought, an unwanted piece of history to say the least.

Yet, after their 115-101 Game 6 win over the struggling Golden State Warriors at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday, the series is tied at 3-3 heading back to California for a decisive Game 7.

And the Cavs could create another piece of history, this time a much more memorable one - they could be the first team in NBA history to rebound from a 1-3 series deficit in the Finals and win the coveted Larry O'Brien trophy.

While getting another win in Oakland remains a formidable task, the series momentum is clearly going their way.

"We've been able to beat a great team two straight games to force a Game 7. I can't wait," said Cavs superstar LeBron James, who returned to his home state team two years ago vowing to win a title for the city. "I'm going to give everything I've got in Game 7."

James was superlative for a second straight must-win game. Just like Game 5, he poured in 41 points, and had eight rebounds, 11 assists, four steals and three blocks. Slam dunks, three pointers, driving lay-ups, and a monstrous block and stare-down at Warriors star Stephen Curry - he did them all.

That enabled the Cavs to race to a 31-11 first-quarter lead - holding Golden State to the fewest points in the first quarter of an NBA Finals since 1955 - which they never relinquish for the entire game.

His sidekick Kyrie Irving had another solid performance, finishing with 23 points. Centre Tristan Thompson broke out with a superb low-post performance, going six-for-six from the field for 15 points and 16 rebounds.

The Warriors made a significant run late in the third quarter, a 10-0 spurt that helped cut the deficit to just seven points early in the fourth quarter. However, James rallied his team to one final spurt that put the game out of reach - and elicited an uncharacteristic outburst from the normally stoic Curry.

Already unhappy at several foul calls against him, the league's reigning Most Valuable Player was hit with his sixth foul with about 41/2 minutes left in the game

He cursed loudly at the official, then ripped out his mouth guard and threw it at the crowd. For his outburst, he was hit with a technical foul and was ejected from the Warriors' bench.

Although Warriors coach Steve Kerr criticised the officiating after the game, he said of the Cavs: "Let me be clear, we did not lose because of the officiating. They totally outplayed us and Cleveland deserved to win."

Looking ahead, ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon, who predicted the Warriors to win 4-3 before the series started, changed his tune.

He said: "I think the historically great player is going to have a historically great feat that he's going to pull off with his mates. And it's going to bring LeBron James as much satisfaction as anything he's done in professional basketball."

Whatever happens on Sunday, the city of Cleveland celebrated like there was no tomorrow after Game 6, as fans cheered and drivers honked on their way home.

No doubt the celebration was fuelled in part by relief that their team had avoided a second straight year of the Warriors winning the NBA title in their arena.

Then again, as one locally based journalist said with a twinkle in his eye before leaving the press section: "I got a feeling."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2016, with the headline 'James shows why he's the king'. Print Edition | Subscribe