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CLEVELAND (Reuters) - LeBron James has carried the Cleveland Cavaliers throughout the NBA playoffs but getting them over the finish line could prove too big a challenge as his weary team's shortened bench is taking a toll.
The banged-up Cavaliers, already down two starting players and dealing with health issues to a few others, looked sluggish in Thursday's loss to the Golden States Warriors that knotted the best-of-seven NBA Finals at 2-2.
"The one thing we've been preaching the whole series is that we wanted to wear them down," Warriors forward Draymond Green said after Thursday's 103-83 win.
The Warriors did just that on Thursday as they played with a much higher intensity level, contested shots, pounced on loose balls and battled for rebounds en route to posting their highest regulation point total of the NBA's championship series.
Feisty Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova went to hospital to be treated for dehydration following Tuesday's Game Three and Iman Shumpert is battling a painful shoulder bruise.
That is on top of losing All-Star guard Kyrie Irving in the opening game of the Finals and Kevin Love early in the playoffs.
And on Thursday, Cleveland nearly lost the heart and soul of their team when James crashed into a camera along the baseline, leaving him with a headache and a bloody gash on his head that required stitches.
Even James, one of the most competitive players in the NBA, needed rest during key moments on Thursday's pivotal game.
After cutting a 12-point halftime deficit to six points in the third, James needed a rest in the fourth. With Cleveland's best player sitting, the Warriors restored their double-digit lead and cruised to the most lopsided victory of the series.
"I was just hoping our team could just buy me a couple minutes," said James. "We weren't able to do that tonight in the fourth quarter, and, I mean, it's difficult.
"You want to be out there, but also you don't want to be -- you want to be effective while you're out there too. So they made a huge run, and we just couldn't regather after that."
During Thursday's game, the Cavaliers trainer was massaging the cramped legs of both James and Dellavedova.
"(It) was the third game in five days, including the trip back from the West Coast, and it seemed to have an impact on us," said Cavaliers head coach David Blatt.
After playing three games in five days, players will enjoy a two-day break before the series resumes on Sunday in Oakland where one team will move one win away from snapping a decades-long title drought.
The Warriors are seeking their first NBA title in 40 years while the Cavaliers are shooting for a maiden championship and the city of Cleveland's first since the 1964 Browns of the National Football League.
Now that the Warriors have seemed to solve the offensive woes that dogged them in Game Two and Game Three losses, coupled with the obvious fatigue plaguing the Cavaliers, the momentum has shifted back in Golden State's favor.
"Maybe because it's our first trip to the Finals, we thought we can just play hard -- but it's not just about playing hard," said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said.
"It's about playing every single possession like it's your last. I thought (last night) our effort took a step up. And that's why we were able to win."
Editing by Sudipto Ganguly