CLEVELAND -- For most of the night, you could finally see how the Cleveland Cavaliers might shock the basketball world and these mighty Golden State Warriors again.
For most of the night, and after three days’ worth of discussion about how these NBA Finals were unofficially over, it was a reminder that LeBron James & Co. were the ones who pulled off the most improbable comeback in league history this time a year ago.
The Cavs were winning with less than 50 seconds left when the Golden State Warriors hit seven straight points to claim victory.
But then came the final minute of the Warriors’ 118-113 win in Game 3, that surreal stretch in which Kevin Durant showcased why the rest of the NBA is terrified by this latest super team.
The smooth jumper from the left block, Durant waiting for Draymond Green to lure James away and then rising over Tristan Thompson to cut the lead to two. The Steph Curry-esque three-pointer on the next possession that put them up one, Durant grabbing the rebound and firing away from 26 feet before James could close the space. The free throws that sealed the deal.
Durant scored seven points in the 11-0 run at the end, leaving the Cavs stunned and the Warriors one win away from recapturing the crown. Game 4 on Friday is a chance not only to win it all, but to become the first team in league history to go 16-0 in the playoffs.
This, right now and likely for years to come, is the rest of the NBA’s new nightmare.
“I said it after we won the Eastern Conference finals that we (were) getting ready for a juggernaut,” James said. “It's probably the … most firepower I've played in my career. I (have) played against some great teams, but I don't think no team has had this type of firepower.”
Ponder the cast of Finals characters that James is talking about – those three San Antonio teams (2007, 2013 and 2014), the 2011 Dallas Mavericks, Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012 and the 2015 and '16 Warriors – and you realize there’s not an ounce of hyperbole in that statement. More importantly for the purposes of today’s NBA, there’s no team even remotely close when it comes to the combination of star power and championship chemistry.
This is why there was so much angst last July when Durant decided to sign with the Warriors. And this is why the Cavs looked so utterly demoralized afterward, when they all but admitted there’s simply nothing they can do about this Warriors team now that Durant has chosen that blue and gold jersey.
Cleveland Cavaliers host Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of NBA Finals
For most of the night, Durant was a virtual sidekick. Curry (26 points, 13 rebounds, six assists) was controlling the action, looking primed to sneak ahead of Durant for potential Finals MVP honors. Klay Thompson (30 points; six-of-11 from three-point range) was looking like himself offensively for the second consecutive game.
Durant picked his spots on the offensive end, then tried his best to slow James (39 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists) on the other. And then, he hit one of the biggest shots of his 10-year career in the kind of free-flowing way that is so much easier because of the embarrassment of riches that surrounds him. Three games in, Durant is averaging 34 points (56.1% shooting overall; 52.4% from three-point range), 10 rebounds, six assists and just two turnovers per game.
“When they have their three main guys eclipsing almost the 30-point mark, it's going to be a tough game,” said Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving, who finished with 38 points. “When have you a powerhouse like them, you have a legitimate three big-time scorers that are able to affect the game like the way they did tonight, it will be a tough matchup.
“He was their closer tonight, for sure. Doing what he is supposed to be doing. He got to a spot, got a switch out on Tristan, hits a big-time shot baseline and then, I mean, just hits an unbelievable game winner, just comes down in transition, that only Kevin Durant can hit.”
Just like they drew it up during that recruiting trip inside the Hamptons mansion last July.
“He took over,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Durant. “You can tell he knows this is his moment. He's been an amazing player in this league for a long time, and I think … he senses this is his time, his moment, his team. When I say his team, I mean it's not literally just his team … We got a group around him that can help him and create space for him with the shooting and the play making, and I think he's having the time of his life out there.”