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Stephen Curry's Monster Game 5 Puts LeBron James, Cavaliers on the Ropes

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 15, 2015

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Through four NBA Finals games, the Cleveland Cavaliers fought their fight, relying on LeBron James' superhuman offensive control, a slow pace and a muck-it-up defense to keep the Golden State Warriors from taking a real swing.

In Sunday's 104-91 Game 5 win, Stephen Curry finally punched Cleveland in the mouth, landing a haymaker that has the Cavs on the brink of a series knockout.

Curry struck a blow when the Warriors needed it most, injecting some wildness into a nip-and-tuck affair played far too conservatively for the Dubs' taste.

James' impossibly deep triple with seven minutes, 47 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter gave the Cavaliers an 80-79 lead, erasing Golden State's six-point advantage at the end of the third. At least for a moment, it forced the idea that James could not be defeated into the heads of the screaming masses at Oracle Arena.

That is, until Curry answered with a preposterous three of his own on the ensuing trip down the floor:

The collective exhale in the arena was enough to ruffle the few banners hanging in the rafters...and maybe remind everyone how close Golden State was to adding another.

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After Curry's answer, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala chipped in key buckets before the regular-season MVP took things over in the final three minutes of the contest.

A slick wrong-footed layup tilted things in Golden State's favor, and a couple of absurd off-the-dribble threes from parts unknown turned the game upside down. It was a familiar feeling for fans who witnessed Curry flout shot-selection norms all season.

Time and again throughout their 67-win campaign, Warriors loyalists watched Curry turn tight contests into laughers with shots like those.

ESPN.com's Ethan Strauss summed up the feeling of inevitability that accompanied Curry's silly bombs in Game 5:

Ethan Strauss @SherwoodStrauss

It took awhile for the Warriors to hit typically unfair shots

On the night, Golden State's point guard scored 37 points, 17 of which came in that fateful fourth quarter. He chipped in seven boards and four assists, finishing with an efficient 13 made shots on 23 attempts, while knocking down 7-of-13 from deep.

When Curry's assault was over, his brother in splash explained the significance without a word, per Diamond Leung of Bay Area News Group:

Diamond Leung @diamond83

Klay Thompson raised one finger at his bench. One more.

There are lots of ways to think about Curry's timely takeover, but since so much of this series has been about James, it feels right to invoke a comparison. LeBron has been a conspicuous force, doing everything for his team and pushing himself past the point of exhaustion.

Curry, meanwhile, knifed in to deliver a killing blow in a blur.

Even after it was over, it was hard to grasp what had happened.

Game 5 showed just how different these two superstars are.

More on James because he deserves it: The world's greatest basketball player was brilliant again, scoring 40 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and handing out 11 assists. He was directly responsible for 26 of Cleveland's 32 field goals.

ESPN's J.A. Adande relayed a postgame moment that illustrated just how great James' burden has been:

J.A. Adande @jadande

Blatt was just asked how much more he could get from LeBron…????? Man, I dunno, can he end the California drought?

His numbers have been insane throughout the series—36.6 points, 12.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists in 45.6 grueling minutes per contest—and even if the Cavs don't go on to win a ring, no right-thinking person could deny him the Finals MVP award.

In Game 5, it was the regular-season MVP who finally turned this series into what he wanted: a deafening, chaotic mess in which the only silences were the anticipatory intakes of breath preceding contested 30-footers off the dribble.

Credit the Cavaliers for preventing this sort of Curry eruption for nearly five full games. That's better than anyone else has done.

Ben Margot/Associated Press

In addition, Cleveland has largely kept Thompson under wraps (he scored 12 points on 14 shots Sunday) and caused the Warriors to abandon starting center Andrew Bogut entirely. He didn't play a second in Game 5.

Nobody else has forced Golden State to fundamentally alter its rotation like this.

If there are nits to be picked, Cleveland head coach David Blatt probably should have played Timofey Mozgov more. He put up a beastly team-high 28 points against the undersized Dubs in Game 4 but played only nine minutes in the follow-up as the Cavs tried to match small with small.

When Cleveland took Mozgov off the floor early in the opening quarter, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr sensed his star would finally get a sustained dose of the pace-and-space madness in which he thrives, per Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Rusty Simmons @Rusty_SFChron

When Steve Kerr saw Cleveland go small, he thought: "This is Steph's night."

Curry has received help throughout this series, which may have enabled him to raise his level of play at such a critical juncture. Unlike the Cavaliers, the Warriors have the depth to spare Curry from James-ian levels of responsibility.

Golden State's defense held the Cavaliers to under 40 percent shooting for the third time in five tries.

Iguodala defended James effectively again, making him work for shots and contributing 14 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals on the night.

Harrison Barnes turned in a couple of highlight jams and grabbed 10 rebounds, a few of which helped extend crucial possessions late in the game.

Draymond Green was his usual self, defending everything in sight and attacking as a roll man more aggressively than at any previous point in the Finals.

James has been phenomenal all series. But Curry, likely because his teammates have contributed enough to keep him from wearing down, had enough left to ascend when his team needed it most.

Maybe the Cavaliers will dictate the tempo again in Game 6, and maybe they'll continue forcing the Warriors into a stifling, slow-down style that keeps them from swinging big.

But Game 5 proved something: Curry needs only a moment to strike the blow that changes everything.

If he has just one more, his Warriors will be NBA champions for the first time in four decades.

Grant Hughes covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @gt_hughes.

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