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Facing elimination against Warriors, Cavaliers are up against a non-existent margin for error

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And they know it.

NBA: Finals-Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Following the Cavaliers’ 110-102 Game 3 loss on Wednesday night, there was one phrase that was used multiple times in relation to the Golden State Warriors: margin for error.

More specifically, how that margin of error is effectively non-existent.

“The margin of error is very low,” LeBron James said. “You can’t — I mean, it’s almost like playing the [New England] Patriots, you can’t have mistakes. They’re not going to beat themselves. You know, so when you’re able to either force a miscue on them, you have to be able to capitalize and you have to be so in tuned and razor sharp and focused every single possession.

“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.”

And make the Cavs pay they did. By all accounts, the Cavaliers were having a pretty good night in the first half. They led by as many as 13, and went to the locker room with a six-point lead. Really, the only guy who was in any kind of offensive flow for Golden State was Kevin Durant, who put up 24 points.

In the second half, however, the Warriors came back with a vengeance, especially in the dreaded third quarter. They outrebounded the Cavs in the frame, 14-6, and outscored the Cavs in the fast break, 12-4. When all was said and done, Golden State went into the fourth quarter with a two-point lead.

From about the six-minute mark in the fourth quarter until three minutes remained in the game, the two teams traded baskets which amounted to six total lead changes. In the end, the Warriors simply had more shots fall, led by Durant’s game-high 43 points and a critical 33-foot three-pointer he nailed with just 49 seconds left to put the Warriors up six.

Durant’s hot night came when none of the other Warriors could find a groove. Their second-leading scorer was Stephen Curry with 11. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Javale McGee and Jordan Bell all had 10 points. The Splash Brothers duo shot just 7-of-27 from the field.

In most universes, that would equal a win. But in this bizarro NBA world we’ve now lived in for two years, Durant’s highlight-reel performance was just the latest example showing the Cavs there isn’t much you can do to contain all of their options.

“I just think the margin of error against them is so little,” Kevin Love said. “I think that we fought very hard. Our schemes have been there. I know that K.D. had a — had one of his games that will go on his highlight reel and one that was incredible even by his standards.

“Then we forced two other juggernauts in Klay and Steph into some very tough shots, and both guys didn’t have the greatest games. So we gave ourselves a chance, same thing in Game 1. Like I said, that margin for error is so thin and so little against them that in some cases you almost have to be perfect.”

Perfection is certainly a hard standard to live up to for a team that has been through hell and back this year without any real kind of consistency.

But for James, that level of perfection is something he got used to going up against during his days in Miami. In four Finals trips, he faced off against the San Antonio Spurs twice, splitting a pair of championships.

“I can take you back kind of to the battles I had with the Spurs when I was in Miami,” he said. “You just knew that they wouldn’t beat themselves. You just knew that like every possession we were playing San Antonio when I was in Miami, you just knew if you made a mistake, Manu [Ginobili], Tim [Duncan], Tony [Parker], [Gregg Popovich] will make you pay.

“When you have great basketball players but also that can also think the game and be very cerebral about the game, that’s what adds the level of stress, because you know that you can never, ever relax.”

The Cavaliers are now in a 3-0 Finals hole for the second time in as many years. Teams that have taken a 3-0 lead in the Finals are 13-0 all-time, but the last team to take a 3-0 lead and complete a sweep was — you guessed it — the Spurs. They got the brooms out against the Cavs in James’ first Finals appearance back in 2007.

But while this is the second heart-breaker the Cavs have lost this series, there isn’t much time to dwell on the small margin of error that once again awaits them on Friday night. That too, is something they, and James, understand well.

“Tonight will be tough,” he said. “Tomorrow I’ll replay some plays and some moments and things of that nature. When I wake up Friday morning I’ll be locked in on the game plan of what needs to be done to help our team win. That’s just who I am.”