CLEVELAND — The game operations staff at Quicken Loans Arena chronicled Stephen Curry’s slow walk back to the visitors’ locker room late Tuesday by showing a few of his halting steps on the Humongotron, the enormous, flame-spewing video board that looms over the court here.
Curry had done nearly everything for the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter, shooting and scoring and muffling a crowd that had spent the first three quarters cheering his every miss and mistake. But despite his late-game pyrotechnics, he still left in defeat as the Cavaliers — the injured, undermanned Cavaliers — escaped with a 96-91 victory in Game 3 of the N.B.A. finals to seize a two-games-to-one advantage in the best-of-seven series.
“You can’t rely on your comeback abilities every game to win a series like this,” Curry said.
Curry needs only minutes to change the tenor of a game or an entire series, and he nearly erased 36 minutes of lackluster basketball by scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Warriors whittle a 20-point deficit to 1. But the Warriors left themselves with too much work, and LeBron James — who else? — left his ferocious imprint on another pivotal win.
James, who has hauled the Cavaliers to within two wins of their first N.B.A. championship, finished with 40 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists. He has now scored, assisted or created 200 of the Cavaliers’ 291 points through the first three games of the series, according to Synergy Sports Tech — the sort of production that is hard to fathom.
Curry, who seldom looked unsure of himself during the regular season, when he was the league’s most valuable player, scored just 3 points in the first half before finishing with 27. He shot 10 of 20, a positive sign amid another otherwise bleak effort for the Warriors. Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green combined to shoot 2 of 16.
“I didn’t like our energy,” said Steve Kerr, the coach of the Warriors. “I didn’t like our body language for much of the first three quarters. This is what we have to fight through. Things aren’t going our way? It doesn’t matter. You’ve got to fight through.”
James, who shot 14 of 34, sealed the win by sinking two free throws after Curry buried his seventh and final 3-pointer with 18.9 seconds left.
Matthew Dellavedova, a plucky point guard who is fast becoming a folk hero in Cleveland, scored 20 points when he was not diving into courtside seats as he pursued loose balls.
“Delly’s the most Cleveland-like Australian I’ve ever met in my life,” said David Blatt, the coach of the Cavaliers. “And if you’re from Cleveland, you know just what I’m talking about.”
Game 4 is scheduled for Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
It was the first finals game in Cleveland since 2007, when the Cavaliers were in the process of getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs. James spent three more championship-free seasons in Cleveland before he left for the Miami Heat in search of an elusive title, eventually winning two.
So his return to Cleveland has been both celebratory and expectant, as the city waits and hopes and dreams of an end to its decades-long championship drought.
The crowd roared 17 minutes before the tip when the Cavaliers took the court for warm-ups, the arena already full, James bobbing his head to the beat of a hip-hop track. He drove for a layup on the game’s opening possession, and the building shook.
In previous playoff runs, James often operated as a facilitator, creating open shots for teammates and taking his own when they materialized. He was not known as a high-volume shooter. He would take his healthy share, of course, but the ball tended to move from one set of hands to the next.
Back in Cleveland, as the only remaining boldface name on a roster stricken by season-ending injuries to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, James has been left with a hodgepodge cast of role players and aging parts. And so he has taken matters into his own hands, launching shots with gluttonous ferocity — for better or for worse.