CLEVELAND — With just under a minute remaining in the fourth quarter and the Golden State Warriors down by two, Kevin Durant casually sank the biggest shot of his life. It’s for moments such as this one, with an NBA Finals game on the line, why the 10-year NBA veteran chose to play for Golden State.
Durant needed just six seconds and four dribbles to travel the length of the court and knock down a pull-up three-pointer over LeBron James. The basket gave Golden State a 114-113 lead with 45 seconds remaining in regulation and completely sucked the life out of everyone sporting the colors of wine & gold in Quicken Loans Arena.
It was a career defining sequence that will live on in Warriors’ lore.
“Not many people are taking that shot,” said Draymond Green after the game. “He knew he was taking that shot the whole way. That was huge. He wanted that moment.”
“That takes some big balls right there,” added Shaun Livingston on Durant’s assertiveness to seize such a monumental moment.
The Warriors scored the game’s final 11 points, holding the Cleveland Cavaliers scoreless for the final 3:09 of regulation. It was the type of run that has become synonymous with Golden State. It is not necessarily if the Warriors will go on a run, rather when. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time for Cleveland.
The first half was played at a pace of 112.4 possessions per 48 minutes, which heavily favored the Warriors. The foundation was in place for Golden State to pull away in the second half just as they had done in the first two games of the series.
However, unlike games 1 & 2 in Oakland, the Cavaliers made a much needed second half adjustment to slow the game down in hopes of suppressing the Warriors’ offensive firepower. In a stark contrast to the first half, the second half was played at a gut wrenching pace of 94.1 possessions per 48 minutes. The Warriors had a difficult time guarding the Cavaliers half court pick-and-roll offense in the third quarter.
#NBAFinals Game 3 pace (pt dif):— Andrew Flohr (@AndrewFlohr) June 8, 2017
1st half: 112.4 (GS +6)
2nd half: 94.1 (CLE +1)
Kyrie Irving put on one of the best displays of finishing around the rim in recent memory, even with Klay Thompson defending him as well as any one could hope for. Irving scored 16 of his 38 points in the third quarter, including a career-high 24 points in the paint on the night.
Golden State continued to guard the thee-point line exceptionally well, limiting Cleveland to just 12-of-44 (27.3%) shooting from deep. However the Cavaliers shot 60.9% on two-point field goals, which forced the Warriors’ defense to collapse in the paint on numerous occasions, often leaving a weak-side shooter wide open.
The Warriors were outscored by 11 points in the third quarter, which is usually when they drop the hammer on teams. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Golden State was 0-12 in postseason games over the last 40 years when outscored by 10 or more points in the third quarter.
But those Warriors’ teams didn’t have Durant.
Despite the Warriors turning the ball over 17 times through the first three quarters, the game never felt as though it was out of reach for Golden State. As the Warriors continued to hang around, they were just a string of stops away from creating an opportunity to strike.
That moment came late in the fourth quarter.
“The biggest thing down the stretch is we didn't turn the ball over,” said Curry of the Warriors’ fourth quarter, in which they only recorded one turnover. “So you got to give yourself an opportunity, but you got to execute down the stretch, make or miss, just to finish off those possessions with good shot attempts and give yourself a chance, and we did that.”
Despite LeBron James’ claim that he has not been getting tired as the game progresses, his shooting percentages have dropped dramatically in the later stages of each Finals game.
LeBron James by Quarter This Series— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 8, 2017
Points FG Pct
1st 39 70%
2nd 25 71%
3rd 21 40%
4th 11 36%
Game 3 proved to be no different as the Warriors eventually wore down the Cavaliers, who missed their final eight shot attempts in the fourth quarter.
“We just kept telling the guys, they're going to get tired,” said head coach Steve Kerr after the game. “Stay in front of them. Force them into outside shots, if you can. Fatigue will play a role. And I think when you get guys playing 45, 44 minutes, basically attacking one-on-one the whole game, it's -- you hope eventually it's going to take its toll.”
Irving played all 24 minutes of the second half for Cleveland, while James rested for a mere 34 seconds towards the end of the third period. Kerr applauded the fact that the Warriors have numerous players who can make plays off the ball, alleviating pressure that comes from having to create one-on-one.
“K.D. looked fresh, Klay was all over Kyrie. I just felt like we just stayed with it, and eventually our defense kicked in,” said Kerr.
But while Kerr’s rotations throughout the game were hit and miss — thanks to the difficulties of Draymond Green being in foul trouble throughout much of the second half — the Warriors remained composed with the game on the line.
Curry said that there was no panic during late game timeouts and dead ball periods, and he described them as “kind of peaceful.”
That’s right, Golden State was basically “zenning” out in their huddles with Game 3 of the NBA Finals on the line.
It seems as though the Warriors are finally becoming masters of their own minds. They have players who have lost at every stage of the playoffs and a large core who have reached the pinnacle of NBA success.
“You win a championship, then you lose one in heartbreaking fashion, you've pretty much seen everything at that point,” explained Kerr. “So you get down in the fourth quarter, it's a five-point game with six minutes left, you don't say, oh, man, we're down five, you just say there's a ton of time left and let's execute.”
After one of the greatest collapses in NBA history just a season ago, the Warriors have done an amazing job of refusing to chase records, as they so openly did a season ago. But now with a 3-0 series lead in the NBA Finals, Golden State stands nose to nose with history. They need just one more win to complete not just the greatest postseason run in basketball, but in all of American sports history.
“Now that we're in this situation, why not take care of business and finish the job,” said Curry on the possibility of a perfect postseason run. “So we have to -- we got to play better, but just thinking about what's next, and that's the goal in front of us, is winning that 16th game.”
Andrew Flohr is GSoM’s credentialed writer and is in Cleveland for games 3 and 4 of the 2017 NBA Finals. He will be streaming a Q&A session on Facebook Live at 3:00 PM (PST) before game 4 on Friday live from Quicken Loans arena in Cleveland.
You can send him your questions to be answered by adding them in the section below or by tweeting them @unstoppablebaby