Welp, that one hurt. That one hurt so so so badly. Just when things were looking up, Kevin Durant came in and snatched mine and every Cleveland Cavaliers’ fan heart straight out from their chest, and then proceeded to swallow it whole. The Cavaliers gave it their absolute best effort, but it still wasn’t enough against the team flooded with remarkable talent as the Warriors won 118-113.
The series is now 3-0 in favor of the Warriors, a deficit that has never been overcome in the history of the NBA playoffs. If the Cavaliers want to make history once again, they’ll have to pull off the damn near impossible. However, there were plenty of signs that showed the Cavaliers can compete against this team. Let’s run through what exactly we learned from a demoralizing Game 3 loss.
Kevin Durant delivered the dagger
With less than a minute remaining in the game and the Cavaliers up two, it felt like all the Cavs needed was one more bucket to put the game in a stranglehold. Just one more made basket to make it a two-possession game and the Warriors chances of a comeback become reduced to almost nothing. The Cavs were on a roll throughout the entire second half, but in the end it didn’t matter. After a Kyle Korver missed corner three, Durant decided to pull up from three with his team down two and LeBron James right in his grill. Just as the Cavaliers had revived their chances in the series, Durant drilled the three, devastating all 20,000-plus fans in Quicken Loans Arena and the millions of others watching across the globe.
LeBron had held Durant in relative check for most of the game - despite his 31 points - but Durant buried the shot when it count. The only shot that mattered was the one that sailed perfectly through the bottom of the net with the game on the line. LeBron was brilliant all game long, finishing with 39 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists, but Durant got the better of him when it came down to crunch time.
The Cavs’ role players finally stepped up, for the most part
One of the main reasons the game was as close as it was, was due to the role players and bench unit finally contributing some valuable minutes. Efficient scoring, solid defense, and most importantly, some championship-caliber hustle was on display. J.R. Smith scored 16 points, knocking down five of his 10 three-point attempts after going 1-4 from deep in the first two games. Kyle Korver hit a pair of triples while Iman Shumpert and Richard Jefferson showed unbelievable hustle and pride on the defensive end. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a collective effort.
Tristan Thompson finished the game with ZERO points and - even more alarming - only three rebounds in 23 minutes of play. He showed more hustle than he did in Game 2, but his lack of production on the glass essentially eliminated the majority of second chance opportunities, which the Cavaliers rely on Thompson for heavily. Deron Williams only played four minutes but it felt like he couldn’t get out of the game fast enough. Williams has showed for three straight games that he is incapable of performing at the level required for the NBA Finals. He is scoreless in the 37 minutes of game time he has collected through the first three games, shooting 0-11, with only four assists and two turnovers (not to mention the air-balled corner three in Game 3). He has become unplayable during the most important part of the season and there isn’t much the Cavs can do at this point to rectify his poor play.
We didn’t even see Channing Frye in Game 3, even though JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia played their most combined minutes of the first three games. There was more effort from specific role players that needed to step up, but too little from others that are expected to produce.
*The proof is in the tweets*
The Cavs were +7 in the 46 minutes that LeBron James played and -12 in the 2 minutes he didn't. Just a wow stat.— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) June 8, 2017
Uncle Drew showed up to play, too
After shooting 40 precent from the field in games 1 and 2, Kyrie Irving finally popped off. Kyrie returned to the same player that Cavs fans have been used to during the NBA Finals, dropping 38 points on 16-29 shooting (oddly enough, he went 0-7 on threes) in 44 minutes. Kyrie took contested shot after contested shot, with each one seeming more and more impossible that it would somehow find the net. But Kyrie strutted his stuff and displayed exactly why he is one of the league’s top finishers.
Kyrie Irving scores 24 PTS in the paint through 3 quarters... That's a new career-high for him. pic.twitter.com/p5vTcfqwua— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) June 8, 2017
Kyrie Irving is a wizard with the basketball.— NBA SKITS (@NBA_Skits) June 8, 2017
Irving was nothing short of magical for most of the evening. The Cavs needed Kyrie to have a monster game for them to have a shot at making this a series and that is exactly what he did. HIs dazzling ball handling and uncanny ability to score through contact was something I’ve never seen. So many tough baskets in one game that would be enough to cover an entire season’s worth of highlights, but it wouldn’t be enough.
Game 4 will take place in Cleveland on Friday night and it will be tough to fight through what happened in Game 3. The Cavaliers had it won, the series was on the brink of turning around, but miscues in the final minute and an unbelievable shot from Kevin Durant took the “W” straight out of the clutches of the city of Cleveland. It’s becoming obvious that the Cavs are going to have to play even better than their best if they want to take even one game in this series. I still don’t envision this version of LeBron James getting swept by any team and I remain optimistic for Game 4. The media will buzz with questions of whether or not Cleveland can trudge through another game playing as well as they did, but I expect nothing less than a valiant effort in Game 4.