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.
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.