CLEVELAND — Kyrie Irving’s now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t, ankle-breaking crossover dribble happened at almost the 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 Klay Thompson of Golden State, who shook his head.

Dropping shots all over the floor, Irving matched teammate LeBron James by scoring 41 points Sunday night as the Cleveland Cavaliers kept their season alive with a 112-97 win in Game 5 over the Warriors, who missed suspended forward Draymond Green and their first chance to close out their history-making 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 to score 40 points in the same game.

With Green barred from Oracle Arena and forced to watch in a suite next door at Oakland Coliseum, the Warriors lacked their most essential defensive player. Irving and James took advantage and extended a series that has defied logic and predictions, and could go the distance.

Irving, who misfired during Games 1 and 2 at Oracle Arena, was on target from the start in Game 5. He made 17 of 24 shots, including 5 of 7 3-pointers and several twisting layups on which he somehow coaxed the ball through.

He was at his best in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 points, 10 in a stretch of 1:57, to help the Cavs send the series back to Ohio on Thursday night. Irving may have to pull off something similar for the Cavs to force a Game 7 and maybe become the first team to overcome a 3-1 finals deficit.

“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.”

Irving reached a level in Game 5 that he’s only touched in brief, brilliant flashes. But there’s also the Irving who dribbles too much, shoots too often, loafs on defense and forgets his teammates.

The key is striking the right balance, and with Cleveland’s season on the ropes, he found it in his sixth finals game. Of course, it helps when shots are going down. He’s averaged 35 points in the past three games.

“Kyrie was great tonight and had my number,” Thompson said. “Hit some tough shots but there’s nothing you can do about it. Sometimes you put your hand up and it just goes in.”

At 31 and in his sixth straight finals, James is savoring every step.

“When you’re done with the game and big moments like tonight and moments throughout your career ,you wish you could get back,” he said. “You just don’t take these moments for granted.”


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