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Kerr saves best for last, Warriors’ small ball “death lineup” closes game with 11-0 run

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It is the Warriors’ best lineup. The most feared five-man lineup in the NBA. Golden State’s “Death Lineup” of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green strikes fear into the heart of opposing coaches.

Yet Steve Kerr (and Mike Brown) has been slow to go to it this series. In part because Green has seen some foul trouble, but also because it hadn’t mattered. The Warriors won the first two games in blowouts barely using the rotation, just 4.5 total minutes in two games.

But down with 6:30 left in a tight game, Kerr put in Green and unleashed the fully armed and operational Death Lineup.

That lineup ended the game on an 11-0 run and earned the Warriors a Game 3 win that has them on the doorstep of another title. And history.

Kerr tried to go to a similar lineup last year in the last three games of the Finals (with Harrison Barnes in place of Durant), but it didn’t work, most notably they got smoked at the start of Game 6.

This year, it’s a different Warriors team, one with more talent, but also much calmer and more focused.

“I think we just kept our poise,” Iguodala said of the late run. “In the past, we kind of got haywire and hectic. We’d try to get it all back in one play. We settled down. We got really good looks. We weren’t just firing it up. Two or three years ago, we’d just fire it up. It shows growth. Kevin Durant makes a huge pull-up three with so much confidence. He lives for those moments.”

Kerr credited that poise to the experience of losing last year in the Finals.

“I think we’re a better team partly because, obvious reasons, we have Kevin Durant on our team, but I think we’re better from our experiences,” Kerr said. “You win a championship, then you lose one in heartbreaking fashion, you’ve pretty much seen everything at that point.

“So you get down in the fourth quarter, it’s a five-point game with six minutes left, you don’t say, oh, man, we’re down five, you just say there’s a ton of time left and let’s execute.”

The Warriors did execute, at both ends. Yes, Durant hit big shots, but the run was largely fueled by stops — Thompson on Kyrie Irving was a key one.

“We obviously have two of the best shot makers in the world in Steph and K.D., and those guys did a great job willing us back into it, and our defense,” Thompson said. “I think our defense was really sound. We didn’t let them get really open looks from three that they were the whole game and tried to make them beat us one-on-one, which they were, but over 48 minutes I think we can live with someone beating us one-on-one.”

The difference between this year’s “death lineup” and last year’s is the same thing that is the difference in these Finals — Durant.

“He was their closer tonight, for sure,” Kyrie Irving said. “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.”

Will Kerr go to his biggest weapon of a lineup in Game 4? Maybe not unless he has to.

But he’s got it in his back pocket, and Cleveland may not have an answer for it.

Kevin Durant, Warriors come though in clutch to take commanding 3-0 series lead

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It was the one remaining question about these Golden State Warriors:

How would they handle a tight end-of-game situation? Only three of their previous 14 playoff games had been within five points in the final five minutes, none since Game 1 against the Spurs. How would they respond down six points with 3:10 to go to an excellent Cavaliers team on the road in the NBA Finals?

Kevin Durant has your answer.

The Warriors closed out the game on an 11-0 run.

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving played their best games of these Finals, combining for 77 points, relentlessly attacking the rim. J.R. Smith played better and hit some threes, as did Kyle Korver. Cleveland was physical on defense. From the start, this felt like a game they not only could win but knew they needed to win.

It wasn’t enough. Durant, Klay Thompson, and Stephen Curry combined for 87 points, including 15 threes, and the Warriors got the 118-113 Game 3 win on the road.

The Warriors are now up 3-0 in this series and can close out the Cavaliers Friday night. With that win, the Warriors also would complete the first perfect postseason in NBA history, going 16-0.

“Obviously K.D. made some huge plays down the stretch. I thought Klay’s defense on Kyrie was amazing,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Overall, it was just an incredibly tough, resilient performance. It wasn’t our smartest game that we have played all year, but it was maybe our toughest in terms of our ability to just hang in there.”

From the opening tip, this was the Cavaliers we had hoped we would see all series — and it was another game to remind everyone why LeBron is the best player in the game.

The pace was up early, and Cleveland was hitting their shots — LeBron started 4-of-4, but more key J.R. Smith hit his first two threes. Cleveland was finally playing with energy, getting back in transition, and doing so much of what they didn’t in Oakland to start the series.

LeBron was 7-of-8 shooting for 15 points in the first quarter, including this steal and dunk.

And in a bit of foreshadowing, all that wasn’t enough. LeBron went to the bench with 1:49 left in the first quarter and his team up two. By the time the quarter was over the Warriors led 39-31. In part that was because Klay Thompson was white hot early and had 16 in the first quarter including going 4-of-5 from three. As a team Warriors started 7-of-9 from three.

The LeBron vs. the World trend continued in the second quarter. LeBron returned at the start of the second, with Curry and Durant out, and suddenly the game was tied again at 39-39. LeBron finished the first half with 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting, the rest of the team had 34 points on 10-of-27 shooting. The Cavaliers bench was 1-of-8 shooting in the first half. The Cavaliers did a much better job attacking the paint, particularly LeBron and Irving, but the Cavs shot 7-of-25 from outside the paint so the Warriors could pack it in a little.

Put it all together and despite the Cavs best half of the Finals was 67-61 Warriors at halftime. Curry, Durant, and Thompson combined for 51 points on 29 shots.

In the third quarter of Games 1 and 2, the Cavaliers settled in the third quarter, but not Wednesday. Irving had his best quarter of the series scoring 16 points in the third and relentlessly attacking the rim, while LeBron played more of a facilitator role. It worked. The Cavs won the third quarter by 11 and led 94-89 after three. There was a real reason for hope in Cleveland because this looked like the Cavs team that came back to get a ring last year.

The Cavaliers were up five inside four minutes to play, but that’s when Golden States’ final push made the difference.

“Like I said, tonight our guys felt, I felt we had a game that we had won that we let slip away,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue sid. “And they made the plays down the stretch, so you got to give credit to those guys.”

“I think we’re a better team partly because, obvious reasons, we have Kevin Durant on our team, but I think we’re better from our experiences,” Kerr said. “You win a championship, then you lose one in heartbreaking fashion, you’ve pretty much seen everything at that point.

“So you get down in the fourth quarter, it’s a five-point game with six minutes left, you don’t say, oh, man, we’re down five, you just say there’s a ton of time left and let’s execute.”

Last year in Game 3, LeBron and Irving combined for 62 points, and the Cavaliers won going away. This year those two did better, LeBron scoring 39 and Irving 38. LeBron was +7 for the game, but the Warriors outscored the Cavaliers by 12 in the 2:23 he rested.

But this year the Warriors have Durant, and that is making all the difference. Including in the clutch.

Kevin Durant drains ultimate game winner over LeBron James, helps seal win (VIDEO)

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LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were world class, J.R. Smith was hitting big threes, the Cavaliers were physical…

And the Warriors still have Kevin Durant.

Who hit probably the biggest shot of his career (above), a cold-blooded game winner over LeBron to give the Warriors the lead with less than a minute to go. That proved to be the game-winner, padded by some free throws from Durant and Stephen Curry. Golden State is now up 3-0 after the 118-113 win.

Durant finished with 31 points on 10-of-18 shooting and is on his way to Finals MVP.

Kyrie Irving explodes for 16 in third quarter, highlighted by layup through four Warriors (VIDEO)

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Kyrie Irving needed to play better for the Cavaliers to win — he has done that.

After a good first half, he exploded for 16 points in the third quarter, almost all by attacking the rim and cutting off the ball to the basket. He is the best finishers at the rim with layups in the game today — frankly the best in a generation — and it showed with that highlight shot above through four Cavs defenders.

Cleveland won the third quarter and was up 94-89 after three thanks to an Irving (and a strong quarter by LeBron James as well).

LeBron steals from McGee on one end, throws down thunderous dunk on other (VIDEO)

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LeBron James came out a man possessed in Game 3.

He started 7-of-8 from the floor for 15 points, and that was capped off by this play where he stole the ball from a posting up JaVale McGee on one end then threw down this hellacious dunk on the other.

Despite all of that, LeBron went to the bench for a little rest at the end of the first and the Cavs gave up everything and trailed 39-31 after one.