NBA Finals 2018: LeBron James' Cavs got exactly what they needed in Game 3, but it still wasn't enough
LeBron got help and Curry went cold, but it still led to a crushing loss for Cleveland
It's one thing to roll over -- to expose your belly to your predator, acquiescing to your inferiority. It's quite another to fight, to refuse to give in, even with your claws dull and your face bloodied. The Cleveland Cavaliers did the latter in their 110-102 Game 3 NBA Finals loss to the Golden State Warriors, which makes the 3-0 deficit that much more devastating.
Why? Because all the things that needed to happen for the Cavs to win ... actually happened. Let's run down the list, shall we?
- LeBron James needs to have a 30-point triple-double. Check. (33 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds)
- Steph Curry and Klay Thompson need to go ice cold. Check. (combined 7-of-26 from the field, 3-of-15 3-pointers)
- LeBron needs to get help from at least two other Cavs. Check. (Kevin Love 20 points, Rodney Hood 15, J.R. Smith 13)
- The Cavs need to bury the Warriors on the offensive glass. Check. (15-6)
The Cavs did everything we thought they needed to do and yet, still, it wasn't enough.
Apparently there was one more mandate we forgot to include: Don't let Kevin Durant score 43 points, and don't let him rip your hearts out with , nearly a carbon copy of what he did in the exact same spot in the exact same game last year.
"Holding Steph to 11 points and Klay to 10, you would think you would win that game," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said after Game 3. "So the guys did a good job on those two guys. And I thought Durant hurt us with his one-on-one, getting to the free-throw line a little bit. But his one-on-one ability really saved them again tonight."
The Cavs' script worked to perfection to open the game. LeBron conserved energy, making a lot of the same passes that he made in Game 2, but this time his teammates came through in the friendly confines of Quicken Loans Arena. Love, Smith, and Jeff Green all hit 3-pointers in the first quarter, allowing LeBron to get to the rim and establish himself inside.
Then in the second quarter it was The Rodney Hood Show. Lue dusted off his little-used shooting guard, inserting him in the place of Jordan Clarkson, and Hood erupted to the tune of six points, three rebounds and two blocks on 3-for-3 shooting in the second quarter alone.
The volatile recipe was coming together. The stars were aligned. Cleveland led by as many as 13 in the second quarter, and was going to get its win, pushing the series to 2-1 and forcing the Warriors' repressed memory of their 3-1 collapse two years ago to come back to the forefront. They only had to reckon with Golden State's most deadly 12 minutes.
The Warriors usually strike like a cobra -- a swift and powerful third-quarter bite, leaving their opponent paralyzed and foaming at the mouth. But the Game 3 assault was more like a boa constrictor, slowly slithering around the Cavs scale-by-scale, squeezing until they gasped their final breath.
Durant scored 10 more points in the third, after scoring 24 in the first half, and JaVale McGee provided a demoralizing spark with eight points and three rebounds in the quarter. When all was said and done, Cleveland's 13-point lead had degenerated into a two-point deficit, and the momentum had clearly swung in Golden State's favor.
It really was remarkable to watch. Here the Cavs were, playing about as well as they could hope to play, with Curry -- who had averaged 31 points in the first two games of the Finals -- suffering through one of the worst shooting games of his postseason career ... and yet Cleveland was losing. What a helpless feeling. You can't really measure how disheartening that is for a team fighting an uphill battle against one of the best collections of basketball players the world has ever seen.
"I just think the margin of error against them is so little," Love said after the game. "I think that we fought very hard. Our schemes have been there. I know that K.D. had a -- had one of his games that will go on his highlight reel and one that was incredible even by his standards. Then we forced two other juggernauts in Klay and Steph into some very tough shots, and both guys didn't have the greatest games. So we gave ourselves a chance, same thing in Game 1. They just -- like I said, that margin for error is so thin and so little against them that in some cases you almost have to be perfect."
And, as we know, no team is perfect -- especially not these Cavs.
So when Durant lined up his 32-footer with 49 seconds left in the game, there were few in attendance or watching at home that doubted even for a second that it would splash through the net. Of course it did, pushing Golden State's lead from three to six, all but assuring the Warriors their third NBA championship in four seasons.
That's exactly what it looked like. A mass of 20,562 deflated souls. You can talk about poor shot selection, missed coverages, poor box-outs, but Cleveland played well enough to win on Wednesday. They just didn't play well enough to win against this team.
"When you have great basketball players that can also think the game and be very cerebral about the game, that's what adds to the level of stress, because you know that you can never, ever relax," James said after the game. "Now you have Draymond, Klay, Steph and K.D., and then you sprinkle in [Andre] Iguodala and Livingston and all those guys as well, it adds a level of stress because you know that you can never relax. If you relax, they make you pay. And making you pay can cost you a game."
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