Warriors on the doorstep of perfection
Durant leads 11-0 run in the final minutes to put Golden State a win from the title.
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.
GOLDEN STATE’S Stephen Curry tries to get a shot off against LeBron James during the second half.
SEEKING HIS FIRST NBA championship, Kevin Durant came up big again against the Cavaliers.