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Analysis: Durant pushes Warriors to brink of title with his performance in Game 3 win

Durant scores a career playoff-high 43 points in the Warriors 110-102 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, giving them a commanding 3-0 series lead in the NBA Finals

NBA: Finals-Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In the confines of Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, the Warriors won an exciting Game 3 of the NBA Finals that came down to the final minutes. Though they trailed for the entire first half, the Warriors came from behind to defeat the Cavaliers, 110-102. The win gives the Warriors a 3-0 lead in the 2018 NBA Finals, which they could end with a win in Game 4 on Friday night.

A Durant performance for the ages

In a hostile environment with his team struggling and matching up against one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA, Kevin Durant played perhaps the greatest game of his career. Durant scored a career playoff-high 43 points on 15/23 shooting, including 6/9 from three-point range.

In the first half, one in which the Warriors never led while the Cavaliers led by as many as 13 points, Durant scored 24 points while the rest of the Warriors roster scored just 28.

Three of Durant’s 24 first-half points came in the closing seconds of the second quarter on this three-point shot that cut the Cavaliers’ lead to just six points.

There was no drop-off for Durant in the second half as he continued his assault on the basket, scoring 19 points over the third and fourth quarters. Durant’s ability to go out and get his shot was extremely important for the Warriors as they went back-and-forth with the Cavaliers, getting the lead and then watching them take it back. In the second half, there were 11 lead changes and the game was tied 8 times.

Thus Durant’s ability to allow the Warriors to keep pace and prevent the Cavaliers from growing any lead was vital.

With the Warriors up by just three points and around a minute left to go in the game, Durant made the killing stroke, the coup de grace.

Pulling up from 33 feet with the basketball, Durant smoothly drilled the jumper that gave the Warriors the 106-100 lead and served as the exclamation point on the Warriors forward’s masterful performance.

It was even in roughly the same spot where Durant took the three-pointer that won Game 3 for the Warriors in the 2017 NBA Finals. Not quite the same spot, or as James pointed out “No, that wasn’t the same shot. The one he made tonight was about four or five feet behind the one he made last year.”

Durant’s excellence was not limited to scoring as he finished the game with 13 rebounds, doing a much better job of boxing out and battling for the ball. Even though Durant was an unstoppable offensive force and things seemed to flow through him in Game 3, he still had seven assists and did not become too locked into an isolation-heavy approach.

NBA: Finals-Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers
Kevin Durant was unstoppable in Game 3, leading the Warriors to the come-from-behind win
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

“It just happened within the flow,” Durant said after the game. “ I wasn’t expecting to come out or shoot a lot of shots or look to score. I was just trying to play great defense and run the plays that Coach draws up and just run with the flow of what our offense is like throughout the game.”

It was an amazing performance by Durant, one he gave on the biggest stage in the toughest environments when his team needed it the most.

Steph’s struggles

The Warriors needed every one of Durant’s points because their other MVP, Stephen Curry, struggled in Game 3. One game after setting the record for most made three-pointers in a Finals game, Curry was 1/10 from three-point range, 3/16 overall, and scored just 11 points.

Curry’s rough night came about for a number of reasons. Some of it was sheer bad luck—even the greatest shooters can have games where the ball bounces the wrong way. Curry did get some open looks, he just missed the shots.

The Cavaliers’ defense played a role in Curry’s underwhelming performance. They did a better job staying with him and contesting. The Cavaliers defended one play—when Curry passes it to someone in the paint and then sprints to the corner to get the return pass and put up a three-pointer—much better.

NBA: Finals-Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers did a much better job defending Curry in Game 3, but it wasn’t enough to get them the win.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, the Cavaliers’ offense also might have played a role in Curry’s poor shooting numbers. It was clear that the Cavaliers, and LeBron James in particular, were making a point of directing their offense at Curry and making him have to work on the defensive end.

At some point, all that extra battling and struggling is going to catch up with you. It might have with Curry in Game 3, sapping him of some of his energy and thus making it difficult to get his shots off in the way he wants.

For all his struggles, Curry did end Game 3 with six assists and went on a personal 5-0 run to turn a one-point Cavaliers lead into a four-point Warriors lead with two-and-a-half minutes remaining. Part of that run was Curry’s first three-point make that Durant described as “the biggest shot” of the game.

“It was a crazy night all the way around,” Curry said of his Game 3. “Tried to still play with energy and tried to do the little things here and there to help the team, but to get one, one good shot down the stretch and still have confidence in myself to knock it down. My teammates were talking to me the whole game, which was helpful. Thankfully that last one went in.”

A better game from the Cavaliers

Not surprisingly, the Cavaliers played much better at home than they did in the first two games of these Finals at Oracle Arena. James was outstanding once again, posting a triple-double with 33 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds. The Cavaliers also got 20 points and 13 rebounds from Kevin Love while Rodney Hood came off the bench and scored 15 points of his own.

NBA: Finals-Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers
Once again, LeBron was a force of nature but still he and his team came up short.
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Cavaliers also did a good job pulling in offensive rebounds as they ended the game with 15, 10 of which came in the first half. The ability to get second opportunities at offensive possessions (the Cavaliers took eleven more field-goal attempts than the Warriors did) allowed them to get that first-half lead and keep up with Durant’s dominant performance.

In the first half, the Cavaliers shot 49.1% from the field and 42.9% from three-point range. However, in the second half those percentages would dip a great deal as they shot 35.9% from the field and 17.6% from three-point range. James was the only player the Cavaliers could count on in the second half, which was not enough to get them the Game 3 win.

Iguodala returns

After missing the previous six games, Andre Iguodala returned to the Warriors lineup in Game 3. In his return to action, the 2015 Finals MVP played nearly 22 minutes and scored eight points and was a +14.

As his head coach Steve Kerr said postgame, “He’s at plus 14, typical Andre line. You might look at it and go, yeah, he had 8 points and whatever. But he gives us another guy to guard LeBron, and he gives us another guy to settle us down and keep us on the right path.”

Though he was clearly not at 100%, Iguodala worked hard when he was switched onto James and made him work for his field goals. With Durant on the team, the duty of defending James does not fall solely on Iguodala but he is a particularly adept defender at makes James work and his life difficult on offense.

NBA: Finals-Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers
Having Andre Iguodala back on the court was a welcome sight for the Warriors and their fans.
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Though he still looked hobbled at times and was seen walking with a limp after the game, Iguodala still threw down a vicious dunk with under two minutes to go that pushed a one-point Warriors lead to three.

In a game like this one, an important one being played before an angry and raucous crowd, it was very helpful to have the savvy veteran presence of Iguodala on the court to make sure everything was running smoothly.


Who was your Warriors Wonder for Game 3 of the 2018 NBA Finals?

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  • 90%
    Kevin Durant
    (381 votes)
  • 9%
    I’m a Blog Boy/Girl and I think he played too much iso ball
    (39 votes)
420 votes total Vote Now

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