CLEVELAND – LeBron James had stuffed another playoff game full of his usual brilliance. He scored. He passed. He rebounded. He defended. After two lopsided losses to start the N.B.A. finals, the Cavaliers fell in line behind him as they spent much of last night fending off the Golden State Warriors.
It was basketball at its best. Both teams exchanged ferocious blows. Both teams responded. But in the final minute, James – perhaps the most fearsome player on the planet – found himself in an unusual position: helpless. He could only watch as Kevin Durant of the Warriors sank a 3-pointer over the top of him, one final jolt from which the Cavaliers could not recover.
The Warriors kept their air of invincibility intact with a 118-113 victory that put them on the brink of their second championship in three seasons.
“I don’t want to relax,” Durant said. “It’s not over.”
Durant’s 3-pointer with 45.3 seconds remaining was the go-ahead basket as the Warriors scored the game’s final 11 points. It was a stunning display of offensive pyrotechnics that dovetailed with the Cavaliers’ late-game collapse, a disheartening result that almost felt unfair, unjust, undeserved. The crowd at Quicken Loans Arena shuffled to the exits in disbelief.
“We thought we were going to win,” James said. “We had an opportunity.”
James collected 39 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists, and Kyrie Irving added 38 points – and still, it was not enough. Not against the Warriors and their all-world assemblage of talent. Durant finished with 31 points. Klay Thompson scored 30 points for Golden State, and Stephen Curry had 26 points and 13 rebounds.
As this best-of-seven series moves to Game 4, scheduled for tomorrow night in Cleveland, the only question left seems to be whether the Warriors can become the first team in N.B.A. history to finish the playoffs with a 16-0 record. They are one win away, of course. It would be the starkest symbol of their dominance this season.
“Having a close game down the stretch – honestly, it’s been a while,” Curry said.
The bad news for Cleveland: No team in the finals has ever rebounded from a 3-0 series deficit to win the championship. Twelve teams have tried, and 12 teams have failed.
In addition, the Warriors have not lost a game since April 10. They would need to lose four in the next 11 days to miss out on another title. It seems – what is the word? – unlikely.
The Warriors entered the game mindful of what had happened against the Cavaliers in Game 3 of the finals last season. After losing the first two games of the series, the Cavaliers came out and crushed the Warriors by 30 here – a startling result that gave the Cavaliers new life. They went on to win the championship, their first, in seven games.
“I think we’re better from our experiences,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said. “You win a championship, then lose one in heartbreaking fashion – you’ve pretty much seen everything at that point.”(NYT)