From the moment Kevin Durant signed with Golden State two summers ago, the debate over who is the Warriors’ alpha dog has raged: Stephen Curry or Durant? In Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night in Cleveland, Durant made his case — and it was a convincing one.
Durant’s 43 points — a playoff career high — on 15-for-23 shooting to go with 13 rebounds and seven assists lifted the Warriors to a 110-102 victory and a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, moving them within one victory of a second straight title and a third in four years.
After Curry starred in Games 1 and 2, the reigning NBA Finals MVP took over Game 3.
“There is just a sense that we’re all on the same team and nobody cares about whose team it is and all that stuff,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday. “Our guys just play. There have been games where KD has had to take over. There have been games where Steph takes over. And there are lots of games in between.
“We literally never have a conversation about who needs to take over. What we do is we decide where are we going to attack? How are we going to attack. Every team presents a different challenge.”
No conversation was necessary at Quicken Loans Arena because Curry simply wasn’t taking over anything. After lighting up Cleveland in the first two games, Curry shot 3 for 16 from the floor, scoring only 11 points.
But it was Curry’s circus layup with 2:58 remaining, followed by a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, that gave Golden State the lead back for good — and set the stage for Durant to hit a devastating deep 3 that all but ended Cleveland’s season for the second year in a row.
After burying a 3-pointer on the left wing in the final minute of Game 3 here last year to give Golden State a 3-0 lead, Durant stepped into nearly the exact same spot and made another 3 to do it again this year. The shot, which he took from 33 feet with the shot clock winding down, made it 106-100 with 49.8 seconds to go, sending fans streaming to the exits and ending a second valiant effort from the underdog Cavaliers in the first three games of this series.
But while Cleveland can walk away thinking it should’ve won two of these first three games, the scoreboard has LeBron James — who had 33 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists while playing 47 minutes — one game away from being on the wrong end of a Finals sweep for the second time in his career.
With the Cavaliers knowing their backs were against the wall, it was expected that they would come out of the gates flying in Game 3.
They didn’t disappoint.
Opening the game with a 16-4 run, Cleveland led wire-to-wire in the first half behind a similar formula that put the Cavaliers on the doorstep of winning Game 1 in Oakland last week: getting physical with Golden State.
Cleveland outrebounded Golden State 28-16 in the first half — including grabbing an absurd 10 offensive rebounds. That allowed the Cavaliers to have 12 more shots than the Warriors, including eight more makes. Add in Curry’s struggles and it was a minor miracle Golden State only trailed by six, 58-52, at halftime.
So how were the Warriors able to keep it close? Because Durant went crazy, scoring 24 points on 7-for-10 shooting, and Golden State kept getting to the free throw line. The Warriors went 12 for 13 from the line. Cleveland, meanwhile, didn’t attempt a single one.
That fact was noted by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who tweeted out a box score with the free throw numbers for each team circled at halftime.
Gilbert was likely pleased when, 22 seconds into the third quarter, James drove to the basket, made a bucket and was fouled, promptly giving Cleveland its first free throw of the game.
Things quickly went in Golden State’s favor after that, though, as the Warriors opened the third with a 17-6 run to take their first lead of the game.
From there, the game never got outside of five points in either direction until Durant’s crushing 3.
And, just as it did in Game 3 a year ago, it moved Durant and the Warriors to the precipice of a championship.
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