Brian Spurlock/USA Today Sports, via Reuters
CLEVELAND — With another clutch shot, Kyrie Irving took the Warriors on a trip down memory lane.
Irving dropped a short turnaround jumper over Klay Thompson with 3.4 seconds left on Sunday as the Cleveland Cavaliers rallied just the way they did in June’s N.B.A. finals to defeat the Golden State Warriors, 109-108, in a marquee matchup that more than lived up to the hype.
Down by 14 early in the fourth quarter, the Cavs chipped away and then put the ball in the hands of Irving, whose step-back 3-pointer over Stephen Curry on June 19 helped seal Game 7 of the finals and gave Cleveland its first major pro sports championship since 1964.
This time, Irving went deep into the lane before spinning and making his shot over Thompson, one of the league’s best defenders.
“The kid is special,” LeBron James said of Irving. “It was never in doubt.”
Irving earlier drained a 3 from the wing that looked a lot like the one he made on June 19, but his bucket over Thompson was more difficult.
“That’s a really hard shot,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said. “I thought Klay played tremendous defense. You don’t do anything different.”
Golden State had one last chance, but Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 36 points in his first game in the league’s hottest rivalry, lost his balance coming off a screen and could not get off a shot as time expired.
“I was trying to make a move,” said Durant, who thought he had been fouled by Richard Jefferson. “I didn’t fall on my own.”
James scored 31 points with a season-high 13 rebounds, Irving added 25 points and Kevin Love scored 20 points for the Cavaliers, who faced a three-games-to-one deficit in last season’s finals before stunning a Warriors team that had won 73 games during the regular season.
Thompson added 24 points for the Warriors, who had won seven straight. Draymond Green scored 16 points and Curry 15.
The biggest present for basketball fans this holiday season was filled with drama, intensity and more than a few moments that sparked reminders of last season’s brilliant finals.
“It lived up to what everyone wanted it to,” James said.
Jefferson sparked a 14-3 run by the Cavaliers in the fourth quarter with a dunk over Thompson. Following the play, Jefferson, who had missed his first eight shots, was called for a technical for winking at Durant.
On the game’s final play, it was Jefferson’s defense that helped stop Durant.
“We all think we’re fouled on every play in every single game,” Jefferson said. “That’s why I say I know the referees have a very hard job. I switched to his body. He looked like he lost his balance. He was trying to regain his balance, and as soon as I saw him start to stumble, I ran off.”
The teams will meet again Jan. 16 and then not again unless both make it back to the N.B.A. finals, which would be the first time in league history that the same teams played for the title in three consecutive seasons.
To remind their guests of what happened in June, the Cavaliers propped open a door near Golden State’s locker room to display a large photo of James’s game-changing block of Andre Iguodala in Game 7. The picture had been doctored with a championship ring taped over James’s left index finger.
If there was any doubt this game meant more than the other 81 to both teams and their fan bases, Green took care of that in the opening minutes.
After being called for his second personal foul, Green stormed off the floor, cursing with every step on his way to the bench. After Green, whose suspension from Game 5 of the finals helped swing the series to Cleveland, was given a technical, several of his teammates came over to calm him down before things got worse.