• The Cavs gave their best in a must-win Game 3, but it wasn't enough. Kevin Durant and the Warriors outdueled LeBron James and Co. to take a 3-0 Finals lead.
By Rohan Nadkarni
June 08, 2017

The Cavaliers needed more from players not named LeBron James in Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals. Cleveland finally received those performances Wednesday night, and even in the Cavs’ most complete performance of the series, it wasn’t enough. Instead, the Warriors remained poised down the stretch of a thrilling Game 3, recording a 118–113 win and moving within one game of a perfect postseason. 

James, of course, was sensational, and this time it seemed he would have the requisite help for a victory. Kyrie Irving (38 points) was at his Uncle Drewest, pirouetting into the lane and finishing with buttery layups at the rim. Kevin Love (1-of-9 FG) didn’t have his shooting touch for much of the night, but he battled heroically on the boards while playing the best defense of his life. And the Cavs’ role players also woke up, with J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver finally offering the outside shooting Cleveland sorely needed in Golden State.

But everything fell apart in the final three minutes. The Warriors went on an 11–0 run to ice the game, with Kevin Durant likely cementing his first Finals MVP award, scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter, including a pull-up, go-ahead three when he caught James napping in transition with under two minutes to go. 

Irving’s makes at the rim were on another level Wednesday. After struggling in Oakland when matched up against Klay Thompson, Irving furiously attacked him and every other defender thrown his way in Game 3. The result was awe-inspiring finish after awe-inspiring finish, with no amount of bodies in the paint deterring Irving from kissing the ball off the glass. 

Jason Miller/Getty Images

But Irving made a terrible decision late in the game, opting for a step-back three over Thompson with Cleveland trailing by one after the Durant pull-up. The result was an ugly brick, and all that was left for the Warriors to do was end the game at the free-throw line. 

Love’s defensive rotations were crisp, and he was always in the right place at the right time. His commitment on that end of the court allowed Cleveland to remain small down the stretch, and his rebounding put immense pressure on the Warriors’ forwards and centers. Through three games, Love has completely redeemed himself from a mostly invisible Finals last year, when his Game 7 stop overshadowed a series-long malaise. Love was spectacular for stretches on Wednesday, but now even he will be questioned, as his shooting struggles in Game 3 will have to be discussed after a close loss.

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And James was James. He was incredibly efficient as a scorer (39 points on 27 shots), even as his legs began to look like anchors in final 24 minutes. His halfcourt defense on Durant was significantly better than the first two games, and he imposed his will physically all over the court. At 32, in his seventh straight championship round, James is having the best Finals of his career, averaging 32 points, 10.2 assists and 12.3 rebounds a game while shooting 55.4% from the field. But Durant had the last laugh, playing his best ball down the stretch as the Cavs wilted trying to keep up with the Dubs’ torrid pace.

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The Warriors, despite 18 turnovers, despite 77 points from James and Irving, and despite trailing in the fourth quarter, were simply too much. Durant, Thompson and Stephen Curry all had big games, enough to overcome foul trouble from Draymond Green. 

Before Durant’s go-ahead shot in the closing seconds, Kyle Korver had an open three in the left corner with the Cavs down by one. He missed, which led to the transition opportunity for the Warriors. If that had went in, it’s possible we’re asking if the Cavaliers have a chance to come back from an 0–2 deficit and win their second straight Finals. Instead, the Warriors are threatening to become the first team in NBA history to go 16–0 in the playoffs. That’s how small of a margin of error the Cavs have been allowed in this series. And now, a comeback looks as impossible as ever. 

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