The Larry O'Brien Trophy and the champagne were ready for the Warriors' victory celebration. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were not, and they responded with perhaps the best 1-2 performance in NBA Finals history.
James and Irving each tallied 41 points in the Cleveland Cavaliers' Game 5 win, forcing a Game 6 in Cleveland Thursday night. It was the first time two players had each scored at least 40 points in the same NBA Finals game.
The Warriors and their fans told LeBron James that he was a baby. They even made signs. (Bad signs.) After the first few games of the series, critics told James he needed to take over. They said the greats of yore would've singlehandedly powered their teams to victory when faced with an opponent like the Warriors.
Monday night, he scored 25 points in the first half, tallying just a single assist.
Critics had told Irving he was letting James down, and after he went just 12-for-36 in the first two games of the series, that talk seemed justified. Once again, it seemed James' teammates had left him on an island.
But Irving scored 30 points in Game 3, 34 in Game 4, and Monday night, Irving picked LeBron up. When James' first half brilliance slowed down in the fourth quarter, Irving scored 10 straight points on an increasingly difficult array of shots:
Will James and Irving's heroics save Cleveland? Even after Monday night, probably not. They'd be the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, and the Warriors truly did look like the better team over the course of the first four games. One pair of historically brilliant performances in a game where Draymond Green was suspended and Andrew Bogut was hurt hardly indicates that the Cavs are now the better team.
But after the criticism lobbed at both, it was beautiful to see both James and Irving respond so emphatically. The Cavaliers didn't get to the NBA Finals in spite of a weak-willed superstar or a lackluster supporting cast. They got there because James and Irving are both spectacular, and both showed on Monday night.