CLEVELAND -- Sometimes there’s nothing left but to grab the basketball and pound it to the floor out of frustration, out of not knowing what else to do, out of feeling powerless, helpless. That’s what LeBron James did in the final seconds in Game 3 of a championship series that has all but slipped away from him, and the ball, which ricocheted high in the still air, might still be stuck in the rafters at Quicken Loans Arena. It appears out of reach. Much like the Golden State Warriors.
Yes, that’s what he and we are asking today: What else to do? LeBron scored 39 points, Kyrie Irving scored 38, and the Cleveland Cavaliers had the Warriors shaking for much of the night, and then the game and the NBA Finals started slipping away from them.
After winning two games by knockout, the Warriors showed they’re also capable of winning one by nervous sweat. After initially playing a rather quiet game by his standards, Kevin Durant showed he can conquer when it counts. After giving up 77 points to LeBron/Irving, the Warriors showed they can remove those weary players from the outcome and, subsequently, suspense from this series.
All that’s left now is a clean sweep of the Cavs and a chance to buffalo their way into the conversation for greatest team ever, or at the very least, the most dominant. Actually, LeBron is ready to give his two cents right now.
“Before the series even began we knew what we were dealing with,” James said. “I said it after we won the Eastern Conference finals that we’re getting ready for a juggernaut. It’s probably the most, more firepower I’ve played [against] in my career. I’ve played against some great teams, but I don’t think no team has had this firepower.
“So even when you’re playing well, you’ve got to play like A-plus-plus, because they’re going to make runs and they’ve got guys who can make plays.”
Are you one of the wise guys who’ll wisecrack today by wondering if the Warriors, based on what happened last summer, can hold a 3-0 lead? Perhaps this is the right time to recap what we all witnessed in the lingering moments Wednesday night, when the Warriors wrote a blueprint on how to close out a game the Cavs had to win.
It was Golden State 11, Cleveland zip in the final 3:09, with Durant calmly dribbling downcourt for a pull-up three-pointer -- LeBron was late on defense -- and the go-ahead bucket. It was a superstar’s shot, the kind made by someone who’s on a mission.
“He just hits an unbelievable game winner that only Kevin Durant can hit,” said Irving.
And then: With the Warriors up three with 10 seconds left, Andre Iguodala stripped LeBron, who then accidentally knocked the loose ball out of bounds. That’s when the ball was slammed down by LeBron, and the only surprise is that, after 45 minutes, he had enough energy to do it.
What else to do?
The answer to that is becoming more obvious than ever, isn’t it? There’s likely nothing the Cavs can do to win the series, if only because it has never been done before, being down 3-0. There’s little they can do to prevent a sweep Friday night in Game 4 (9 ET, ABC) if the Warriors keep insisting on flexing their obvious star advantage, which of course they will.
Look what they’re bringing, still: They have Durant, who scored 30-plus points (31) for the third straight game. They have Curry, who aggressively added 26 points and once again outrebounded Tristan Thompson, 13-3. They have Klay Thompson, a "Splash Brother" reborn, who supplied 31 points in his most impactful game of the series and was deadly from deep.
The Warriors have won 15 consecutive games this postseason after a 118-113 Game 3 decision and looking rather historical in the process.
“We know what’s at stake,” said Thompson.
Throughout this series the Warriors have stuck with a basic formula: Spread the floor, put the ball in the hands of two players who own a combined three MVPs, and let two others -- both of whom are All-Stars -- do what they do best. As stated many times before, most emphatically by LeBron, a great team that won more games than anybody over the last three years brought Durant to The Finals. It’s really that simple.
The Warriors won a record 73 games two seasons ago and are now on the verge of winning 16 straight in the playoffs, which would also be a record. Not only are they beating up everyone, they’re showing some mercy by doing it quickly and cleanly.
And just think: If Draymond Green didn’t run his foot and his mouth last summer, the Warriors might be staring at three straight titles right now.
Not that they’re fretting about it too much at the moment -- and why should they? Returning and winning is the best revenge, and doing so this dominant only sweetens the task.
“It’s an exciting time,” said Durant, smelling blood.
Perhaps it was preordained once Durant signed up for duty last July. What was suspected then is being realized now. He outscored LeBron 14-7 in the fourth quarter mainly because Durant didn’t have to labor throughout the game as much as LeBron. While Durant paced himself and let others score, LeBron exhausted himself out of necessity. Durant took and made a cold-blooded shot in the final minutes, whereas LeBron had the ball poked away by Iguodala in the final few seconds.
“I [saw] him get ready to pull up… when KD shoots, he falls forward and the last thing I wanted to do was foul a jump shooter,” explained LeBron on that shot. “So I just stood there, hands high, contested, and he made it.”
Last summer when the Warriors were losing their grip on the series after a 3-1 lead, they didn’t have anyone like that. Sure, they had Curry and Thompson, but both struggled. And they had Harrison Barnes and he made five shots in the final three games. This time they have someone who can step in, and step up, should Curry and/or Thompson turn chilly, or turn the Warriors into a three-headed monster when they’re not. How can the Cavs deal with that?
“He took over,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “You can tell he knows this is his moment. He’s been an amazing player in this league a long time, and he senses this is his time, his moment, his team… I think he’s having the time of his life out there.”
The only close contest in this series is Durant and Curry over who gets the MVP. From a sentimental standpoint, Durant has dibs if only because he left OKC for this. But Curry has played the best ball of his postseason life -- remember two years ago in Cleveland he dealt with questions about Matthew Dellavedova? -- and once again was a handful for Cleveland.
Aside from his points and rebounding, his swipe of LeBron -- a clean pick out of nowhere while running downcourt, which stunned LeBron -- showed what he’s capable of doing defensively.
Really, though, the Warriors are whole, plugging passing lanes, attacking the glass, scoring from point-blank and from deep, and the Cavs haven’t found answers for this.
All the Cavs can do is play LeBron and Kyrie 40-plus minutes -- this after LeBron averaged 37.8 during the season -- and hope they aren’t gassed near the end, which Kerr believed they were Wednesday.
I’m just trying to enjoy this moment and not look too much in the future or the past, just stay in the present and keep pushing. Then I’ll probably sit back and reflect on everything once the season’s over.”
“Fatigue was an issue because the game was so hard fought,” Kerr said. “I thought LeBron and Kyrie played the whole second half, or maybe they got a few seconds’ rest, and that’s a hard thing to do.
“That’s what I think makes our team who we are. We’ve got guys who can make some plays and take some pressure off each other. That was a factor down the stretch. KD looked fresh, Klay was all over Kyrie. I just felt like we stayed with it.”
There is the sense that we’re seeing something special, something that was all but promised when a great player joined a great team. There’s little, or maybe nothing, the Cavs can do to prevent what appears to be the inevitable.
“I’ve never been in this position before,” said Durant. “It’s not over so I don’t want to relax and feel like it’s over. I’m just trying to enjoy this moment and not look too much in the future or the past, just stay in the present and keep pushing. Then I’ll probably sit back and reflect on everything once the season’s over.”
Yes, it’s only proper for Durant and the Warriors to wait until it’s official. The rest of us, however, are free to triple-jump right now to a conclusion. It seems like a safe leap this time, no?
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