The sight of Kevin Durant dribbling up the left wing with under a minute to go would be enough to make any Cleveland fan have sweat-induced night terrors.
And in true Freddie Krueger fashion those nightmares came back to life as Durant rose up from the left wing with 49 seconds to go and buried his sixth 3 of the game — and for all intents and purposes the Cavaliers hopes — to give the Warriors a 110-102 win and commanding 3-0 Finals lead.
Durant was dominant from the jump as he was essentially the only reason the game was close in the first half, scoring 24 of his 43 on 7-of-11 shooting before the break. He also had eight rebounds in the first half, while the rest of the starters combined for just three. He would finish with 13 rebounds and seven assists in what was one of his best performances in his short Warriors career.
Steve Kerr, who usually is quick to give credit to everyone, wanted to talk about Durant’s game even when asked about the other players:
“You know, we’ve got a lot of depth. We’ve got a lot of guys who can play, and they’re all chipping in. But we should probably go back to Kevin Durant, shouldn’t we? That was amazing what he did out there tonight. Some of those shots, I don’t think anybody in the world can hit those but him. He was incredible.”
Curry exuded joy even during his struggles, especially when Durant hit shot after shot, which Durant noticed:
“I mean, I just love that support from my teammates, and I think we all just support each other in a real childlike approach to the game. That’s rare in the NBA because we’re all professionals. We’re all grown men. But I think having guys that get so excited about a good play, a good block or a good rotation or a good shot or dagger shot. I think everybody gets excited for the small parts of the game, and Steph is one of those guys that just brings that joy. That’s what the Warriors are all about”
Golden State as a whole got outworked in the first half, the Cavaliers had 10 offensive rebounds while the Warriors had just 17 total.
JaVale McGee started his second game in a row and was productive offensively slamming home 10 points and despite playing just 14 minutes, and was the Warriors second-leading scorer until Curry hit two free throws with 11 seconds to go to limp ahead of McGee in the box score. While he was good on offense, he was a liability on defense and was regularly taken advantage of by the Cavs.
That opened the door for Jordan Bell to play 12 minutes where he scored 10 points and pulled down six rebounds.
It also helped that Andre Iguodala made his return to the court after missing the past six games. He played 22 minutes but also looked gimpy after taking a hit to his other knee and is being listed as day-to-day for Game 4. He didn’t look close to 100 percent but still finished as a plus-14 for the game and even banged a dunk on Tristan Thompson‘s head.
But with their usual third quarter run, the Warriors outscored the Cavs 31-23 and clawed their way back from an early 13-point deficit to take a two point lead into the fourth.
While the Warriors heated up, Curry stayed frigid. He would finish the game with just 11 points and shot a subzero 3-of-16 from the field and 1-of-10 from deep just one game after hitting a Finals record nine 3’s.
Kerr said nights like this will happen, but that’s the beauty of the way this team is constructed:
“There’s going to be nights like this for all of them. Steph was 3-for-16, 1-for-10, but as usual he hit a big one. He always finds a way to make big plays even on his toughest nights. But we’ve got a lot of guys who can score and fill it up, and they lift each other up if one of them is having a tough night. Yeah, it’s pretty nice, a pretty nice luxury as a coach, that’s for sure.”
The Cavs ran him off the line with surprising regularity but he also missed some very makeable shots. He even went out of his way to force some shots in an attempt to find some rhythm. Nothing worked. But with Durant doing whatever he wanted, Curry was able to bide his time and settle for spacing the floor for Durant.
Yet they still had a slight lead, and that knowledge was something of a rallying cry for the team Draymond Green said:
“Not necessarily thinking aw man, Steph hasn’t made a shot and we’re up one. More thinking we haven’t played that great and we’re up one. We’ve taken several punches from them and we’re up one. Nonetheless, we know that he was struggling from the field, however we’re not going away from him, we’re going to continue to give him the ball and he’s going to shoot however many shots he wants.”
And then with two-and-half minutes to go in the game, he finally broke through. An awkward layup followed by his first and only 3 of the game to shift the momentum to the Warriors side — and one they rode to the finish line.
Durant actually said that he thought Curry’s shot was the biggest of the game:
” I just felt like especially the way he was missing shots tonight, he was struggling to shoot the ball, and the confidence that he had to pull that one up, and just the momentum of the game just kind of turned in our favor at that point…That momentum started when we had a stop first. And when Steph came down and took that three, no conscience, no matter how many shots he missed. That’s what I love about him.”
That’s when Durant rose up once more. Two Finals appearances, two back-breaking, championship-making 3’s. That’s what the Warriors brought in Durant to do, for games like this when their other stars struggle — and that’s exactly what he has delivered.
For the only time in the Finals, these two teams will have just one day of rest and take the court again Friday where the Warriors will look to finish off a sweep.