Kevin Durant stood calmly near midcourt – and a very familiar spot – as teammates Stephen Curry and Draymond Green screamed at him in celebration.
Another momentous shot for Durant.
And soon, probably another NBA championship.
Durant scored a career playoff-high 43 points, draining a long 3-pointer in the final minute to cap his magnificent performance, and the Warriors beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 110-102 in Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night to move within a victory of a sweep, their second straight title and third championship in four years.
The Warriors are on dynasty’s doorstep.
Afterward, the defending champs could be heard loudly celebrating inside their locker room, perhaps a warmup for a bigger party to come.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, are in a hole that might as well be 6 feet deep. Teams that have fallen behind 3-0 in the playoffs are 0-131.
It might be time for the guys from Northern California to order some champagne from Napa Valley.
With the Cavs down 103-100, Durant stood defiantly and almost motionless after dropping his 33-footer – just a few feet from where he made one in Game 3 last year – and effectively ended the fourth straight finals matchup between two teams who have gotten to know each other well since 2015.
After Durant scored, Curry and Green rushed to his side and the trio walked back toward Golden State’s bench where the other Warriors were hugging and high-fiving.
As always Durant stayed cool.
‘I don’t want to downplay anything, but I don’t want to act like this is the end of the road,’ Durant said. ‘So just get back to work tomorrow and figure out a better game plan.’
Durant said the similarity with last year’s shot – a moment that helped define his first championship – didn’t occur to him.
‘No, not at all,’ he said. ‘I just took the shot.’
There was nothing James or the Cavs could do but think about what might have been after losing two games that were within their reach.
‘Tonight will be tough,’ said James, who scored 33 and rolled his right ankle in the first half. ‘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.’
Golden State will now have four chances to wrap up its title starting with Game 4 on Friday night. The Warriors are trying to join a select list of teams to win three championships in four years.
Kevin Love added 20 points for the Cavs, who have fallen into a hole in which no team has ever emerged. Cleveland came back from a 3-1 deficit to stun the Warriors in the 2016 finals, but that was when Durant was in Oklahoma City and James had a different supporting cast.
The Warriors won despite a 3-of-16 shooting performance from Curry, who did come up big down the stretch as the Cavs were trying to salvage their season.
Now Cleveland could be down to one final game with James, who recorded his 10th triple-double in the finals. The three-time champion can opt out of his $35.6 million contract and test free agency this summer, and it may be time for the 33-year-old to find a team capable of beating the Warriors.
These Cavs can’t figure it out.
Durant, who tilted this rivalry toward the West Coast when he signed with the Warriors as a free agent before last season, was brilliant from the start. He helped offset a rough night for Curry, who made a finals-record nine 3-pointers in Game 2, but was just 1 of 10 from behind the arc and didn’t score his second field goal until there were under three minutes left.
Curry’s scoop shot put the Warriors up 98-97 and defensive specialist Andre Iguodala, who didn’t play in Games 1 or 2 because of a knee injury, came up with a steal under the basket. Curry finally buried a 3 and after James matched him with a long shot, Iguodala drove the lane for a thundering dunk.
Moments later, Durant delivered his dagger to silence Cleveland’s crowd.
‘No, that wasn’t the same shot,’ James said when asked to compare Durant’s 3 to last year’s. ‘The one he made tonight was about four or five feet behind the one he made last year. He’s an assassin. That was one of those assassin plays right there.’
Durant scored 24 in the first half, when the Warriors attempted 13 free throws to zero for the Cavs, a disparity that induced further wrath on the officials from Cleveland fans still stinging from the now infamous reversed call in Game 1.
James arrived at 6 p.m. dressed more casually – camouflage pants, purple hoodie, ‘Billionaire Boys Club’ baseball cap – than on the road where he and the Cavs have been wearing suits during the postseason.
Everything is more relaxed and familiar at home for James and his teammates, who were counting on a return to their own noisy building, where they play better and shoot better, to get them back into the series.
The Warriors had other plans.
Warriors: Green passed Wilt Chamberlain (922) for the most rebounds in Warriors playoff history. … Klay Thompson played in his NBA-high 390th game over the last four seasons. Green is second with 387, while James is third at 381. … Curry has made a 3-pointer in 89 consecutive playoff games, and a record 43 on the road.
Cavaliers: Kyle Korver continued to struggle. He missed all four shots and is now 8 of 29 dating to Game 1 of last year’s Finals. … James (238) broke a tie with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and moved into fourth place for the most playoff games. Only Derek Fisher (259), Tim Duncan (251) and Robert Horry (244) have made most postseason appearances.
Iguodala, the 2015 finals MVP, scored eight points and made one steal in 22 minutes, but his impact went beyond those numbers.
‘It was good just having him, settling the game down,’ guard Shaun Livingston said. ‘His defense was strong, whoever he was up against – LeBron or someone else – and his toughness makes everyone out there better.’