CLEVELAND -– LeBron James called Wednesday's Game 3 both a "must-win" and "do-or-die" opportunity, and then went out and breathed life into all of Northeast Ohio by officially welcoming the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals with a dominant win over the Golden State Warriors.
After getting whipped by a total of 48 points in Games 1 and 2, James and the Cavs held serve at home with some whipping of their own, leading the Warriors by as many as 30 points on their way to a 120-90 rout to tighten the series at 2-1.
In the pregame huddle outside the locker room, James told his teammates "follow my lead and do your job."
His instructions were certainly heeded.
James had 32 points on 14-for-26 shooting, 11 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal, turning in his best performance of the series by far, and the rest of the Cavs replicated the renaissance.
"At the end of the day, no matter if you lose by 30 or 1, it's just one win. And you have to be able to have a short mind but also learn from the mistakes that you made the previous game and just try to better yourself in the following game. And that's what we're able to do," James said after the game.
Richard Jefferson (nine points, eight rebounds) filled in capably for Kevin Love, hitting a key 3-pointer early to cap a 9-0 start to the game that got the Cleveland crowd into it for the rest of the night.
Tristan Thompson (14 points, 13 rebounds) helped the Cavs dominate the glass, 52-32.
It was a totally different Cavs team than the one that looked shaken in the Bay, as they took better care of the ball (14 turnovers resulting in only eight points for the Warriors) and never trailed.
"It was a good flow, and everyone felt like they were a part of tonight's win. So it was just a collective team win. It wasn't about us versus their starting five. It was just about how everyone can get the job done whoever is on the floor," James said.
Look no further than one play in the third quarter to know it was a different night for Cleveland. James smothered Curry at half court to get a steal, pushed it ahead to Irving for a give-and-go, then finished it off with an alley-oop dunk from well above the rim.
Irving tied the Golden State in scoring (16-16) all by himself in the first quarter, as Cleveland jumped ahead by 17 after one. The Warriors made a run in the second quarter, outscoring the Cavs 27-18, but it was all Cleveland after halftime as it outscored Golden State by 22.
About the only thing that didn't go the Cavs' way was Golden State's bench outscoring the Cavs' reserves 33-15, but some of those points came late in the fourth with the game well out of reach.
Quicken Loans Arena figures to be just as hostile an environment for the Warriors for Game 4 on Friday. But a big question remains: What will the Cavs do with Love? If he clears the league's concussion protocol and is able to play, does coach Tyronn Lue mess with the chemistry he captured Wednesday or does Love take a lesser role?
That will be discussed ad nauseam in the days to come. For now, we have a series thanks to James backing up his words.