CLEVELAND — Kyrie Irving's now-you-see-it-now-you-don't, ankle-breaking crossover dribble happened at almost the exact spot where his first NBA Finals ended brutally last year with his left leg buckling and kneecap shattering.
He didn't crumble this time, using his left hand to keep his balance before switching hands, stopping, whirling and dropping a contested fadeaway shot over Golden State's Klay Thompson, who shook his head.
In the biggest game of his life, Irving astounded.
Dropping shots all over the floor, Irving matched teammate LeBron James with 41 points as the Cavaliers kept their season alive with a 112-97 win in Game 5 of the NBA Finals over the Warriors, who missed suspended forward Draymond Green and their first chance to close out their historic season with a second straight title.
Irving wouldn't let it happen, delivering a spectacular effort that fulfilled his potential and promise.
"Probably one of the greatest performances I've ever seen live," said James, who joined Irving as the only teammates in Finals history with 40 points in the same game.
With Green barred from Oracle Arena and watching the game in a suite next door at Oakland Coliseum, the Warriors lacked their top defender. Irving and James took advantage and extended a series that has defied logic and predictions, and could go the distance.
"We're not satisfied," Irving said. "We understand the magnitude of what Game 6 means for us at home, and we know that it will be an incredible level that they're going to play at, and we have to play at an even better level."
A little splashy, Irving and James were Cleveland's Crash Brothers, wrecking Golden State's plans to pop champagne and kiss the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
As Monday's game wound down, Stephen Curry sat with his head in his hand and fellow Splash Brother Thompson wrapped a towel around his face. The fired-up Warriors fans made for the exits early.
Yet there's no panic now for the defending champions.
"We're all disappointed. We want to win," guard Shaun Livingston said. "With the stakes being what they are right now, obviously it's a gut punch. But it's the Finals. It's not going to be easy."
Golden State gets emotional leader and All-Star forward Green back Thursday. But big man Andrew Bogut might be out. The 7-foot center sprained his left knee in the third quarter Monday and was scheduled for an MRI exam Tuesday. General manager Bob Myers said Bogut would travel with the team.
"We're in the same place we were last year, up 3-2 heading back to Cleveland. If you told me this before the series, I would have taken it," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "So we're in a good spot."
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