Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James dunks the ball against the Golden State Warriors during Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Cleveland, Ohio, on June 16, 2016
Cleveland (AFP) - Four-time NBA Most Valuable Player LeBron James delivered one of the greatest must-win performances in NBA Finals history late Thursday, leading his Cleveland Cavaliers in a victorious late charge against the Golden State Warriors.
James scored 41 points to power the Cavaliers over Golden State 115-101 and force a one-game showdown for the NBA title.
"Special, very special," Cleveland's Kyrie Irving said of James.
"You try not to sit back and watch because you're trying to make sure that you create space for him and able to give him outlets when he needs it," Irving said.
But "when a guy's got it going like that ... it's just unbelievable."
James scored 18 consecutive Cavaliers points from late in the third quarter to midway into the fourth, part of a run where he scored or assisted on 35 of 36 Cleveland points.
"That fourth quarter was unbelievable when he's playing that mid-range, and outside, and driving to the rim and creating opportunities for all of us," Irving said.
James finished with 41 points for the second game in a row -- the first time a player had 40 in back-to-back finals games since Shaquille O'Neal in 2000 -- and the Cavaliers leveled the best-of-seven series at 3-3, setting up a winner-take-all game seven showdown Sunday in California.
"It's LeBron being LeBron. He's one of the greatest of all times," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.
"Our back was against the wall and he took it upon himself to really put this team on his back and really get us to where we're trying to get."
In a virtuoso performance, James played 42 minutes, hit 16-of-27 shots from the floor, passed out 11 assists, grabbed eight rebounds, blocked three shots and made four steals.
"He played unbelievable on both ends of the floor," Cleveland's J.R. Smith said. "He was aggressive all night."
The Cavaliers could become the first team in NBA history to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals. They became the first team in 50 years, and only the third ever, to recover from such a hole to force a seventh game.
- 'Doing it for everyone' -
James, in his sixth consecutive NBA Finals and seventh overall, returned from Miami in 2014 vowing to make the Cavaliers a champion and end Cleveland's drought of not having won a major sports crown since 1964.
"I can't think of too many players who have put that type of pressure on themselves and then have delivered more times than not," Cleveland's Richard Jefferson said. "And he embraces it. He's doing it for everyone and that's a pressure I know I couldn't personally handle. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him taking that on."
NBA Most Valuable Player and scoring leader Stephen Curry, who netted 30 points to lead Golden State, marveled at James as well.
"He's playing great. He's doing things that are game-changing and helping his team win," Curry said. "He has been more aggressive shooting the ball. He has played well. There's no two ways around it."
- 'We're going to ride him' -
The latest debate over who is the NBA's top player centers on James, 31, and Curry, 28.
"I don't really get involved in that," James said. "I try to be the best player I can be for this team every night, lead these guys out. I don't really get caught up in what everybody else talks about."
James had 27 points in the second half, denying the Warriors when they trimmed a 24-point deficit to seven in the fourth quarter.
"He's a fantastic player," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "He's so athletic and strong and he was hitting his jump shot. He played a brilliant game."
James told Lue at the start of the fourth quarter that he did not want to be rested on the bench.
"I don't think he got tired," Lue said. "With our season on the line, at the end of the third quarter he said, 'I'm not coming out.' I didn't have any intention on taking him out anyway. We're going to ride him. Down the stretch we decided to put the ball in LeBron's hands."