If tonight was the beginning of the end of the 2017 NBA Finals – and history suggests it is, the story of the series and Game 3, will be the Cavaliers’ LeBron James and Kyrie Irving playing their hearts out virtually the entire game and wearing down in the last quarter against a better overall team with more vitality – the youthful and athletic Golden State Warriors.
LeBron had his best playoff numbers in this series; averaging 32 points, 10.2 assists and 12.3 rebounds a game while shooting 55.4%. James, speaking to sportswriters after the game, told them that he gave everything he had and there is no reason to doubt that, but he also admitted that no other team he has played in either the regular season or the playoffs, had what he calls the “firepower” of Golden State. And that is something that has been discussed this entire series and why what we suspected would be the outcome, has materialized.
The Warriors had an incredible arsenal offensively and defensively coming into the season and adding Kevin Durant to the line up just made it all too much not only for everyone in the Western Conference, but clearly against the best of the East – the Cavaliers.
Cleveland’s game tonight was essentially James and Irving, with 39 and 38 respectively. There wasn’t nearly enough else to allow them to keep pace with the Warriors. Klay Thompson was a monster on both ends of the floor, but particularly clutch with 18 of his 30 points coming from downtown.
One incredible facet of the game was that both Durant and Stephen Curry were able to spend comparatively long stretches on the bench and stay fresh, while their teammates kept both James and Irving engaged on the floor for over 40 minutes – even with Draymond Green in foul trouble in the second half.
There was a bit of a scare involving LeBron in the first quarter, when he was flat on his back on the floor after a collision with teammate Tristan Thompson. For a few nervous minutes, everyone wondered how serious the situation might actually be, but eventually teammates and Cleveland trainers pulled all 250 pounds of LeBron off the floor and he was soon back in the game. Even so, this became sort of the visual representation of the team’s situation in this series after tonight.
James shrugged off the questions about fatigue in the post-game interview, but his performance betrayed his denials, dropping off significantly in the second half as did Irving’s, to the extent that both seemed to be running on nothing but fumes in the tank. Meanwhile, Golden State took heavyweight punches from LeBron and Kyrie and just kept trading with intense, off the rebound transitions that Cleveland could not defend – although they tried with all their might.
The Cavs, even with 18 steals from Golden State, could never run away from the Warriors – especially with the insane success the Warriors were having from the field, setting an NBA playoff record with 9 three point winners in a single quarter (1st). Nevertheless, Cleveland’s game peaked in the 3rd quarter, when it looked like they might be able to create a cushion for themselves with a lead, but it proved ephemeral – because against Golden State, there is no such thing as a comfortable lead. Blink your eyes and it’s gone.
With just a few ticks over 3 minutes in the fourth, Cleveland’s offense fell completely silent as did the fans in Quicken Loans Arena; unable to score, while Golden State, in the last 2:45, went on an 11 point tear.
In the end, it was LeBron against KD. With 45 seconds on the game clock, Durant planted for a walk off 3 pointer and James had no answer, except for the look on his face which said everything. It was a back breaker and putting Golden State ahead, one sensed that the momentum was irreversible – and it was.
Kyrie Irving, when asked about the psychological effect of the game’s outcome, said, “It definitely hurts. To lay it all out on the line like that — you want to come out on the winning side but we gave a great effort and the result just didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to.”
It’s hard to criticize J.R. Smith’s bravado in posting this tweet –
He reconsidered it later and deleted it. Maybe he should have left it up. Maybe his team could have rallied around it as a battle cry. There’s no shame in calling your shot if you give it your best shot and fall short.
Wednesday night’s 118-113 win by Golden State, notches their 15th straight win in this year’s NBA playoffs, and the only remaining question it seems, is will they make it 16-0 on Friday night, while simultaneously sweeping Cleveland and taking the Championship bling back with them to Oracle.