CLEVELAND – LeBron James silenced the questions about whether he’s the still the best player the world, nearing a triple-double with 39 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists. Kyrie Irving added 38 dazzling points.
And the Cavaliers still lost.
The Warriors ended a 118-113 Game 3 win on an 11-0 run, spoiling masterful performances by Cleveland’s biggest stars.
“It definitely hurts,” Irving said, his voice quivering. “I’m human.”
“I apologize if I’m shivering,” Irving said. “I just got out of the cold tub. So don’t think I’m like getting sensitive on you guys. Just pretty cold.”
So, the Cavs aren’t quite on the verge of tears. But here’s a frigid reality: They’re on the verge of elimination, facing a 3-0 deficit – never before overcome – against arguably the greatest team of all-time.
If LeBron and Irving can play like this and still lose, what hope do the Cavaliers have? What else can they do?
“I gave everything that I had to this game, so I don’t look at it saying I wish I could have did this or I would have did that,” LeBron said. “I left it out on the floor.
“It’s probably the most, most firepower I’ve played in my career. I played against some great teams, but I don’t think no team has had this type of firepower. So, even when you’re playing well, you got to play like A-plus-plus.”
That’s a different tune from before the series, when LeBron put Golden State in the mix with the Spurs and Celtics as the best teams he has faced. While Irving claimed his demeanor was unrelated to emotion, LeBron is clearly the frustration of playing the Warriors
LeBron slammed the ball after his final turnover practically clinched the game for Golden State. He stewed, barely engaged in the final seconds. As the clock mercifully neared zero, he stormed through hugging teammates on the bench toward the locker room.
Cleveland outscored the Warriors by seven in LeBron’s 45:37 and got outscored by 12 in the other 2:23. Irving played 44:23, making plenty of big shots when the Cavs’ offense might have otherwise stagnated.
All along, Golden State coach Steve Kerr implored his players to keep defending as they were and bet fatigue would set in. After carrying such heavy loads, LeBron and Irving each shot 0-for-3 in the final five minutes.
“When you get guys playing 45, 44 minutes, basically attacking one-on-one the whole game, it’s – you hope eventually it’s going to take its toll. I wasn’t sure after awhile. They just were going nuts,” Kerr said. “But I think that we just stayed with it, and our defense finally kicked in.”
Said LeBron: “At times throughout the game I was tired, but that’s just because I was just playing as hard as I could. But I was able to get second and third and fourth winds. I don’t contribute us losing this game because we got tired.”
LeBron keeps saying he’s not tired, but he looked worn down late – which is understandable.
The last teammates to play as many minutes as LeBron and Irving in regulation of a Finals game were Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in 2012 Game 4. The Heat cinched that game when Westbrook committed a boneheaded foul in the final seconds.
Durant has moved on from the Thunder and those problems. After carrying a relatively lesser load than his star counterparts from Cleveland, Durant was fresh late and made all the key plays down the stretch.
Meanwhile, LeBron and Irving are left with the tiring burden of keeping up with a super team. The challenge, always immense, has never seemed greater.