War­riors on the doorstep of per­fec­tion

Du­rant leads 11-0 run in the fi­nal min­utes to put Golden State a win from the ti­tle.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Ta­nia Gan­guli

CLEVE­LAND — Kevin Du­rant saw the space and stepped back. Then he rose, to the mo­ment, to his MVP stature, to the ex­pec­ta­tions im­posed upon him.

With LeBron James guard­ing him late in Game 3 of the NBA Fi­nals, Du­rant made a 26-foot three-pointer that gave the Golden State War­riors the lead for good in a 118-113 vic­tory over the Cleve­land Cava­liers.

Through­out the sec­ond half Wed­nes­day night, Cleve­land had hope. Then cold re­al­ity hit the whole city with that shot, the key to a clos­ing 11-0 run. The War­riors added Du­rant last sum­mer and made them­selves un­beat­able.

The War­riors lead the Fi­nals three games to none and are 15-0 in the post­sea­son. If they win Game 4 in Cleve­land on Fri­day, they’ll be­come the first team in NBA his­tory to sweep ev­ery round of the play­offs on the way to a cham­pi­onship.

“I’ve never been in this po­si­tion be­fore,” Du­rant said. “I don’t want to re­lax. It’s not over.”

Cleve­land’s two big­gest stars punched back af­ter two blowout losses in Oak­land. James and Kyrie Irv­ing fought for loose balls. They mus­cled into the paint for tough shots. They did all they could for as long as they could, while the War­riors pa­tiently waited for them to tire. James fin­ished the game with 39 points while Irv­ing fin­ished with 38. Their com­bined 77 points was the most by a duo in a loss in Fi­nals his­tory, ac­cord­ing to the Elias Sports Bureau.

But Golden State got 31 from Du­rant, 30 from Klay Thomp­son and 26 from Stephen Curry.

The loss left the Cava­liers shell-shocked. Coach Ty­ronn Lue didn’t ad­dress his team in the postgame locker room. He didn’t even go in there when the game ended. James didn’t have many words ei­ther. They gave their best ef­fort of the Fi­nals and it wasn’t enough.

“I gave ev­ery­thing that I had to this game,” James said.

The Cava­liers set a tone early in the game that they didn’t in­tend to be swept. They even took a five-point lead early in the first quar­ter as James made his first four shots, and fin­ished the first quar­ter seven of eight.

Du­rant, of­ten matched up with James, fin­ished the first quar­ter with eight points to James’ 16. But while James pushed the War­riors, his team strug­gled with­out him. He sat for the fi­nal 1:49 of the first quar­ter, and the War­riors went on a 10-0 run.

“I knew I had to give LeBron at least a two-minute blow in that first quar­ter be­cause in the sec­ond half he might not get a blow,” Lue said.

Golden State fin­ished the first quar­ter with a Fi­nals record nine three-point­ers and led by six at half­time.

But Cleve­land emerged from half­time en­er­gized.

In the first two games, the War­riors used the third quar­ter to strangle the Cava­liers. At home for the first time since May 23, Cleve­land turned the game dur­ing that pe­riod. The Cava­liers took their big­gest lead of the se­ries (seven) off 16 third-quar­ter points from Irv­ing.

“We just kept telling the guys, they're go­ing to get tired,” War­riors coach Steve Kerr said. “Stay in front of them. Force them into out­side shots, if you can. Fa­tigue will play a role.”

James and Irv­ing played the en­tire fourth quar­ter, but each only made two of six shots. As the quar­ter closed, Cleve­land could not match Du­rant’s will.

He scored seven straight points while the Cava­liers re­mained score­less in the game’s fi­nal 3:09, the big­gest three com­ing on that 26footer with 45.3 sec­onds left.

By the rhythm of his drib­ble, James knew Du­rant was about to shoot. He knew Du­rant’s ten­den­cies so well — he leans for­ward when he shoots — that he didn’t want to foul him shoot­ing a three­p­ointer.

“So I just stayed there, high hands, con­tested,” James said. “And he made it.”

A year ago against Golden State, the Cava­liers be­came the first team to win the Fi­nals af­ter trail­ing three games to one.

Now, with Du­rant added to the War­riors’ al­ready-im­pres­sive ar­se­nal, Cleve­land’s fate looks bleaker than ever.

Ron Schwane As­so­ci­ated Press

GOLDEN STATE’S Stephen Curry tries to get a shot off against LeBron James dur­ing the sec­ond half.

Tony Dejak As­so­ci­ated Press

SEEK­ING HIS FIRST NBA cham­pi­onship, Kevin Du­rant came up big again against the Cava­liers.

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