Cleveland has no answer for Kevin Durant.
Neither do 28 other teams, but the Cavaliers’ problems with him get exposed on the biggest of NBA stages. So do their other defensive issues, such as the inability to switch cleanly off the ball.
For the second straight year in the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers came out with force in Game 3 needing a win to avoid going down 0-3, only to have inconsistent defense and Kevin Durant do them in.
And Durant worked them with cruel efficiency.
Durant had 43 points on 15-of-23 shooting, 6-of-9 from three, including the above dagger, plus 13 rebounds and seven assists to lead the Warriors to a 110-102 win. The victory has the Warriors up 3-0 in the series, a deficit no team has ever come back from in the NBA Finals. Game 4 is Friday night in Cleveland.
“Some of those shots, I don’t think anybody in the world but him can hit them,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Durant.
KD wasn’t the Cavaliers’ only problem. Maybe not even their worst one.
For the second straight game the Warriors off-ball movement — such as their split screens, or the Warriors just slipping a screen — confused a Cavaliers defense that is trying to switch everything but is not defensively disciplined enough to do it. The result was a lay-up line for the Warriors — they had 37 shots at the rim in the game. Many of those uncontested. Whenever the Warriors needed a bucket, it seemed they could get one at the rim (or just throw the ball to KD).
“Just got to be better,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said tersely when asked about the defensive issues.
Those shots at the rim made up for the fact that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were off their game, combining to shoot 7-of-27 overall and 3-of-15 from three.
If the Cavaliers can’t beat the Warriors on a night their shooters are this off… it’s a bad sign. But there are a lot of bad signs in Cleveland now.
The Cavaliers wasted another strong game from LeBron James, who racked up his 10th NBA Finals triple-double — 33 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds. Every other active player combined have three. There are just 27 of them total outside of LeBron.
LeBron was brilliant early in the game, being aggressive and attacking downhill, getting into the lane and not settling for threes. LeBron’s first 12 shots all the paint. He eventually took six threes, hitting just one, but he was carrying this team. He got a little help this time with Kevin Love scoring 20 and knocking down threes.
Tyronn Lue finally gave Rodney Hood a chance — the mid-season acquisition’s chemistry with LeBron has been iffy, but in a series where the Cavs need shot creation he is their second best at that. He rewarded Lue with 15 points and a strong game.
But it wasn’t enough in a game where the Cavaliers just have to try to outscore the Warriors because they can’t get stops.
Game 3 had the start the Cavaliers dreamed of — Love hits a three, J.R. Smith hits a three, more importantly the Cavaliers corralled three offensive rebounds and forced three Warriors turnovers. It led to 16-to-4 early run for Cavaliers.
But the Warriors are just never that easy to put away. Golden State started 0-of-6 from three, but one by Klay Thompson and one by Durant sparked run that eventually tied the game late in the first quarter.
Durant was making his “don’t forget about me for Finals MVP” push in the first half. He kept the Warriors close with his shooting (well, that and the off-ball movement that continues to lead to lay-up after lay-up for the Warriors).
Durant had 24 first-half points on 7-of-10 shooting, the three other Warriors All-Stars shot 4-of-18 and that included Curry and Thompson shooting 1-of-9 from three. The Warriors were down just six at the half.
Then came the expected third quarter Warriors run — up-tempo play, some threes raining down, the layup line continued, and the Warriors had an 11-point third quarter lead at one point that shrunk to eight by the end of the quarter, but that was enough to have the Warriors up 83-81.
LeBron and the Cavaliers made their push in the fourth quarter, but the Warriors scored on their final six possessions of the game and it summed up the night: Curry wide-open lay-up, Curry open three, Andre Iguodala dunk, Durant three, Draymond Green dunk, and then eventually a couple of Curry free throws.
The Cavaliers don’t have answers for Durant or the Warriors motion, and this series is now all but over.