CLEVELAND — On Wednesday, basketball fans were treated to the game they’ve been pining for all postseason.
Fortunately for Bay Area NBA fans — and unfortunately for their detractors — it was the Golden State Warriors who came out on top, 118-113.
Kevin Durant hit the biggest shot of his career, giving the Dubs a 3-0 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers. He finished with 31 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Klay Thompson followed with 30 points and six boards. Draymond Green collected his first technical of the NBA Finals but also had a near triple-double (8-8-7) despite being in foul trouble for most of the contest. Stephen Curry netted 26 points, grabbed 13 boards and threw six assists.
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The Warriors showed none of the Game 3 jitters that put them behind big early at this time last year. Instead, Thompson showed his postseason shooting slump was officially done by hitting four of his first five 3-point attempts. He scored 16 points in the opening period, which Golden State dominated, 39-31.
Cleveland’s role players responded positively to playing at home. JR Smith got rid of his timid act, an off-putting role for one of the most over-confident gunners in the NBA. He was joined by backcourt mate Kyrie Irving, who finally exhibited why he’s LeBron James’ right-hand man. Irving was aggressive and reminded the Warriors of his first-rate finishing skills by scoring 38 points, his best mark of these Finals.
The second quarter was more even than the first. The Cavaliers took advantage of a stretch where Kerr decided to sit both Durant and Curry, outscoring the Dubs by seven during that span.
But the Warriors showed why they’re one of the most explosive offenses ever at the end of the quarter. Irving made the mistake of leaving Thompson wide open to double Zaza Pachulia in the post. The big man found the shooter for a 3-pointer from the wing. Then, Irving committed a turnover that Curry turned into a triple in transition, and Golden State went into the halftime break with a six-point lead.
Following the break was some of the most competitive basketball of these NBA playoffs. The Warriors and Cavs traded leads 11 times with six ties. (Forcing the Cavs fans in the building to watch The Diff on the scoreboard with extra scrutiny). It was Cleveland that pulled away late in the third, riding a 6-0 run to take a 7-point advantage, its biggest of the series.
The Cavs maintained that momentum in the fourth quarter, which had a fortuitous start for the home team when Green was called for his fifth foul early in the period. James and Irving continued to be nearly unstoppable in the open court, but Golden State’s shooters refused to let them die.
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Thompson hit his sixth 3-pointer with 4:40 remaining, setting up the first close finish to a game of the Warriors’ postseason quest for their second title in three years. Thompson and Durant missed open 3-pointers within the last four minutes, while Smith made one for the Cavs to extend their lead to six.
A pair of offensive rebounds by Kevin Love in the final minutes limited Golden State’s possessions, but the Dubs made enough big shots in their limited opportunities to give themselves the lead late.
Durant hit the biggest shot of all — a cold-blooded, stare-down 3-pointer — with 45 seconds left to bury the Cavs.
The Dubs now take a 15-0 record in the playoffs into Game 4 on Friday, when they’ll attempt to become the first team in history to sweep the NBA postseason.
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