BY TOM WITHERS
CLEVELAND — No panic, no playing around. Just California cool.
The Golden State Warriors simply did what they had to do, and now they’re going home in the same shape as when they left — tied in the NBA Finals.
Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala scored 22 points apiece and the Warriors, showing their depth and why they were the league’s best team all season, squared the finals at 2-2 on Thursday night with a 103-82 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Game 5 is Sunday night at Oakland’s rambunctious Oracle Arena, where the teams split two overtime games last week.
“We’ve seen it all year, every team we go up against, we use our strength in numbers,” said Iguodala, who made a surprise start. “Not only do we have a good first unit but we’ve got a second unit that is coming at you with the same type of speed, same type of high-IQ basketball. It’s hard to keep up with us.
“We’re going to try to keep it going.”
LeBron James scored 20 points — 21 under his average in the series — with 12 rebounds and eight assists, but Cleveland’s megastar, who played with a cut on his head sustained in the first half, didn’t score in the fourth quarter and couldn’t do enough for the undermanned Cavaliers.
Timofey Mozgov led Cleveland with 28 points and guard Matthew Dellavedova, again battling leg cramps after a hospital stay for dehydration, had 10. The Cavs shot just 2 of 18 from the field in the fourth quarter, and got nothing from their bench as J.R. Smith missed all eight 3-pointers and Cleveland’s reserves scored seven points.
Missing All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, the Cavs didn’t have enough firepower and their legs were heavy after playing three games in five days against the league’s deepest team.
The Warriors were in a must-win situation as none of the 32 teams who have fallen behind 3-1 in the finals have come back to win an NBA title. Golden State doesn’t have to worry about that, and now it’s possible the Warriors will get to play two more games on their home court if the series goes the distance. Game 6 is Tuesday night in Cleveland.
Building off a strong fourth quarter in Game 3 that gave them confidence, the Warriors showed a sense of urgency from the outset and took it to the Cavs. Iguodala, who played so well coming off the bench in the first three games, started and made coach Steve Kerr’s decision look brilliant.
Known for his defense, Iguodala made four 3-pointers, kept James in check and Curry, the league MVP, made four 3s as well, including a deep dagger in the fourth.
Kerr credited Iguodala for making things more difficult on James, who went 7 of 22 from the field.
“I didn’t think Andre guarded him any differently than he did the first three games,.” Kerr said. “It’s a different game. LeBron’s shots didn’t go in. The same shots may go in next game. Andre, he battles him. He’s played him a lot in his career. Every team he’s been on, he’s the guy that has to guard LeBron when he comes to town.”
With Cavs still hanging around, Curry hit a step-back 3 on the left side that stopped the Cavs cold and silenced a roaring crowd of 20,562. After his shot splashed through the net, Curry clenched both fists, pounded his chest and yelled, “C’mon!”
The Warriors followed their leader and now they’re headed home brimming with confidence.
Draymond Green added 17 points and Harrison Barnes had 14 for Golden State, which didn’t lose three straight games all season while racking up 67 wins.
Looking for a spark, Kerr decided to go “small” with his starting lineup, putting Iguodala at forward, moving Green to center and benching struggling big man Andrew Bogut. Kerr initially said he wouldn’t make any changes, but went with a lineup that worked well late in Game 3, when the Warriors scored 36 points and trimmed a 20-point deficit to one.
Shortly before tip-off, Kerr told reporters he was sticking with his usual first five.
“I lied,” he said. “I don’t think they hand you the trophy based on morality. They give it to you if you win. Sorry about that.”
Kerr got the result he wanted, but only after the Warriors withstood an early flurry from the Cavs, who scored the game’s first seven points.
“We said, ‘Hey let’s throw a little wrinkle in it and see how it works,’” Iguodala said. “It worked for us tonight.”
Golden State’s ball movement was better, the shots that didn’t drop in the first three games were on the mark, and the Warriors are headed home feeling much better about things.