It’s been a decade since LeBron James went to his first ever Finals, and the outcome of the 2017 Finals could very well end in the same fashion: a four-game sweep. The Cleveland Cavaliers, understanding the gravity of the moment in Game 3, may have had their most competitive game of the series. For four quarters, the Cavs traded blows with the Warriors, but at the end, it wasn’t enough and now they find themselves down 3-0 and on the verge of going winless in the championship round.
It seems that each superstar from both teams have had their moment in the sun in these Finals. On Wednesday night, it was Kyrie Irving’s time to shine. The point guard, who has struggled to make a significant impact in any game in the Finals, scored 38 points and was unstoppable when it came to getting to the basket and finishing. Irving, who couldn’t find his shot from the perimeter, going 0-7 from the three-point line, showed why he may just be the best player in the League in isolation situations.
Irving’s masterful handle and shifty change of directions kept the Golden State defense, particularly Klay Thompson who has guarded him all series, on their toes and on their heels in Game 3. Unfortunately, it just wouldn’t be enough to help his team keep their dreams of back-to-back championships alive.
Speaking of players finally making their mark on the series, the aforementioned Thompson seemed to finally break out of an offensive slump that has not only plagued him in the Finals, but throughout the entire playoffs. In the first quarter, the sharpshooter scored 16 of his 30 points, connecting on five of Golden State’s nine made three-point attempts in the opening frame. Thompson also had the defensive play of the night, which was eerily similar to Kevin Love’s defensive play on Steph Curry in last year’s Finals. With the Warriors holding on to a 114-113 lead with under a minute to play, and caught in isolation against Kyrie Irving, Thompson held his ground and forced Kyrie into a contested jumper that didn’t connect and the Warriors secured the rebound.
“I think that I just did a good job of not falling for any of his moves, because he’s real shifty, and just stayed in front of him, and luckily he missed the shot,” Thompson would say of his game clinching defensive play. But it was his superstar teammate, Kevin Durant, who was the real star of the night for Golden State in the first game they’ve really been pushed in the Finals.
In the possession just prior to Thompson’s defensive highlight, Durant, who scored 31 points—the third time he’s eclipsed the 30 point mark in the Finals, Durant knocked down a deep three-pointer over the outstretched arms of LeBron James, to put Golden State up by one point in the closing minute of the game. All told, Durant took over in the fourth, scoring 14 points and helped the Warriors, who trailed by six points with three minutes left, go on an 11-0 run and seal the victory.
— NBA (@NBA) June 8, 2017
“He took over. You can tell, he knows this is his moment,” said head coach Steve Kerr after the game. “He’s been an amazing player in this league for a long time, and he senses this is his time, his moment, his team.”
“I never been in this position before. I don’t want to relax,” Durant said. “It’s not over. This is a crazy game. Anything can happen. So, I don’t want to relax or feel like it’s over. It’s not.”
While Durant may feel like the series isn’t over, the general consensus is that it is. Despite coming back from being down 3-1 in the Finals last season, this year is a totally different animal and with the addition of Kevin Durant, the Golden State Warriors are a totally different team. LeBron James, who came one assist shy of notching his second triple-double of this series as he finished with 39 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists, seemed to acknowledge after Game 3 that he and his team have run up against an opponent that may be too much for them to overcome.
“I said it after we won the Eastern Conference finals that we’re getting ready for a juggernaut,” James said during the postgame presser. “It’s probably the most, most firepower I’ve played in my career. I played against some great teams, but I don’t think no team has had this type of firepower. Even when you’re playing well, you got to play A-plus-plus, because they’re going to make runs and they’re going to make shots and they got guys that’s going to make plays.”
While James’ last comment about guys making plays could be taken as a shot against his current crop of Cavaliers teammates, it was essentially a statement of fact and a common observation throughout the Finals that Cleveland just doesn’t have the offensive personnel to compete. A look at the Game 3 box score certainly backs that statement up.
While James and Irving combined to score 77 points, outside of J.R. Smith who finally snapped out of his playoff and Finals slump with 16 points, no other player in a Cavaliers uniform scored more than 10 points. That includes Kevin Love who went 1-9 from the field, scoring 9 points while grabbing 13 rebounds. Tristan Thompson was once again a non-factor, going scoreless and grabbing just three rebounds in the game. Deron Williams also failed to make a shot for the third straight game—he actually hasn’t scored in a game since May 25—and the Cavs bench combined for just 11 points in Game 3.
Game 4 is on Friday night and it could very well be the end of the 2016-17 NBA season. It’s pretty safe to say that the Cleveland Cavaliers are no match for the Golden State Warriors. Also, if the Finals does end in a sweep, after going 73-9 in the regular season last year, Golden State will once again put themselves in the annals of NBA history by being the first team to run the table and go a perfect 16-0 in the playoffs.