Durant Scores Playoff Career-High; Golden State One Win Away From Third NBA Title In Four Years

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As the phrase goes, history truly does repeat itself.

This was definitely the case on Wednesday night between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

Squaring off in a critical matchup that could define the remaining outlook of the series, the Warriors arrived to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland with the intentions of increasing their 2-0 advantage, while utterly diminishing their opposition’s likelihood of a dramatic comeback.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers were determined to defend their home court against the reigning NBA champions. With the help of an exhilarating, rambunctious crowd of over 20,000 rowdy spectators, maybe a reassuring win could provide the momentum shift needed to turn the tide for LeBron James and his teammates.

Heading into the final minute only trailing by one possession, the Cavaliers still had a slight flicker of hope to pull off the upset—at least until Kevin Durant abruptly took that dream away.

Does that sound familiar?

It should because the Golden State superstar was the instigating cause of Cleveland’s demise in Game 3 of last year’s NBA Finals as well - practically shooting under the exact same circumstances. By looking at the comparison, the resemblance of both plays is just uncanny. 

Draining a heartbreaking three-point dagger with 49.8 seconds left, Durant and his playoff career-high of 43 points was instrumental to silencing everyone in the building. Durant’s production was imperative as the Warriors take a commanding 3-0 series lead, outlasting the Cavaliers by winning 110-102.

What happened?

Entering this contest with a must-win mentality, Cleveland had the near-perfect start that James and company were hoping for. Suddenly hitting the wide-open jumpers that had been alluding them in the previous two games, the Cavaliers came out shooting red-hot from the field, opening on a 16-4 run that gave them their largest lead of the NBA Finals at that point.

Although when it comes to the Golden State Warriors, no lead is ever safe. 

Once Golden State head coach Steve Kerr called a much-needed timeout just around four minutes into the game, his team began to regroup, and then it was on. Led by Durant’s early 13 points and 4-for-4 shooting, the Warriors were eventually able to cut the lead to one, trailing 29-28 by the end of the first quarter. 

Cleveland wasn’t startled though by Golden State’s sudden comeback. 

Instead, the Cavaliers responded with a 6-0 burst of their own, quickly establishing a solid cushion. This short run for the Cavaliers would eventually develop into a 13-point advantage with almost four minutes left in the first half (the largest lead of the game for both teams). 

Cleveland forward Kevin Love was a dominant force to be reckoned in the early stages of this game. Finding his mean streak on the glass and establishing his perimeter shot from the outside, Love had a double-double by halftime with 15 points (on 6-for-10 shooting, 3-for-5 from the three-point line) and 10 rebounds. Due to his efforts, the five-time NBA All-Star was a major reason why the Cavaliers were out-rebounding the Warriors by 12 boards. 

Furthermore, let’s not forget about the one-and-only LeBron James, whose usual exploits totaled at 14 points, six rebounds and nine assists, while shooting 7-for-15 from the field.

Overall, Cleveland’s offense was quite efficient in the first half as they made 49.1 percent of their shots (as well as 42.9 percent from downtown). Contrasting with the Cavaliers quite heavily, the Warriors only shot 43.9 percent (and a shockingly abysmal 28.6 percent from the three-point line).

Fortunately for the Warriors though, Kevin Durant single-handily kept his team in the game, shooting 7-for-10 (3-for-4 from three) and scoring 24 points before halftime.

By the time the beginning of the third quarter rolled around, it was a tale of two halves.

Exploding on a 17-6 run in just over four minutes of play into the second half, Golden State was having one of their typically monstrous third quarter runs (as the Warriors hold the NBA record for the highest point differential of any quarter in league history).

As the game was heading into the final stretch, it was an intense back-and-forth contest as eight lead changes and five ties occurred in the fourth quarter alone. 

The sequence that ultimately decided the game ensued with about one minute left. Trying to either make a play for himself or his teammates, James tried to drive towards the paint. Instead of taking the shot himself, he dumped it over to Cleveland forward Tristan Thompson, who immediately attempted to take a shot off of an ineffective post move and missed. Rebounded by Golden State, they dribbled down the court with a small 103-100 lead.

This is when last year’s Finals MVP did what he does best—nailing a 33-foot three-point jumper that gave Golden State a six-point margin. This would become too much for Cleveland to overcome, and Durant made it look so easy.

Finishing at 43 points (a new playoff career-high) along with 13 rebounds and seven assists, Durant did enough to overcome the lackluster shooting performances of Golden State guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who both shot a combined total of 7-for-27 from the field (and 3-for-15 from three-point range). Considering nobody on the Warriors besides Durant eclipsed the 12-point mark, this just shows how impressive the nine-time All-Star was over the course of the evening.

“Well, this is the beauty of this team and the luxury that we have of having multiple big-time scorers,” Kerr said. “Yeah, it’s pretty nice, a pretty nice luxury as a coach, that’s for sure.”

James, who passed Michael Jordan as the sole record holder for the most 30-point games in NBA postseason history with 110 outings, finished with a triple-double showing of 33 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. In reflection, James compared the Warriors to another professional sports dynasty with a similar reputation of winning, and it’s quite fitting.

“It’s almost like playing the Patriots,” James said. “You can’t have mistakes, they’re not going to beat themselves. You can’t have miscommunication, you can’t have flaws, you can’t have ‘my faults’ or ‘my bads’ or things like that, because they’re going to make you pay. The room for error, you just can’t have it."

Who stood out?

It’s safe to assume that Durant (43 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists) is the obvious choice. From start to finish, the “Durantula” was a cold-blooded killer on the court—snagging timely rebounds over and over again, knocking down momentum shifting jumpers when called upon, as well as embracing his inner playmaker by finding open teammates for easy buckets. 

Durant proved once again why he is one of the top three best basketball players on the planet, and a few notable observers of Durant’s stoic game-clinching shot would agree with that assessment.

"He’s one of the best players I’ve ever played against, that this league has ever seen,” James said. “His ability to handle the ball, shoot the ball, make plays at his length, his size, his speed—that’s what he does. He’s a scorer. He’s an assassin, and that was one of those assassin plays right there.”

“That was amazing what he did out there tonight,” Kerr said. “Some of those shots, I don’t think anybody in the world but him can make hit them. He was incredible.”

So you get the point. He’s really good.

When was it decided?

Shortly after the Warriors made an integral defensive stance by forcing LeBron James to pass the ball off to Tristan Thompson, which eventually resulted in a missed layup attempt, Golden State regained possession of the ball, leading by three points with less than a minute to play. As the shot clock was set to expire, Kevin Durant hits a clutch 33-foot three-pointer with 49.8 seconds remaining, firmly breaking the heart and spirit of every player, coach, trainer, executive and die-hard fanatic associated with the Cavaliers organization.

Sometimes, like in this particular case, basketball is like poetry - it rhymes. In this game for instance, Durant’s shot directly mirrored the one that he made in Game 3 of the previous iteration of the NBA Finals, but there are some who would disagree with this statement.

''No, that wasn't the same shot,'' James said of the comparison to Durant’s three this year to the one last year. ’'The one he made tonight was about four or five feet behind the one he made last year.”

“It’s a different game, different season,” Durant said. “I mean, different feel. Just a different vibe around the team, around just — everything’s just different.”

Either way, both shots were legendary to say the least.

Why does it matter?

Golden State now has a 3-0 lead in the series over Cleveland, which puts James and his Cavalier teammates in a hole where there’s virtually no return. No team in the history of the NBA has ever come back to win a postseason series from a 3-0 deficit (0-113 in the playoffs, 0-11 in the NBA Finals). Historically speaking, the odds are not in Cleveland’s favor.

So unless a miracle happens, this series is pretty much over.

When do they play next?

On the brink of elimination, the Cavaliers will host the Warriors in Game 4 of the 2018 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on Friday night at 9 p.m.