It wasn’t the Cleveland Cavaliers’ best basketball, but it was their best shot to beat the Warriors and breathe life into this series.
The Cavs looked better in other games – their defense was much better in game two, and their outside shooting nearly matched the Warriors (admittedly low) percentage in game one. But with 45 seconds left in the fourth quarter and a one-point lead, this was the Cavs’ best shot, regardless of whether or not the previous 47 minutes and 15 seconds had been their best ball of the series.
In many ways though, they’d done enough good things to win. Kyrie Irving went nuclear and, after ending the first quarter shooting just two for six with six points, went unconscious within eight-feet of his own hoop and finished with 38 points on 16 for 29 shooting, repeatedly scoring like this:
Kyrie Irving doing it AGAIN
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) June 8, 2017
Kevin Love seemed to scoop up the role that Tristan Thompson left on his way to the Kardashian’s house and ended the game with nine points, 12 boards, and six (SIX!) steals before getting banged up late. J.R. Smith, who hadn’t made a shot since the first quarter of game one, went five for 10 from deep. LeBron was, well, LeBron. James finished with 39 points, 11 boards, and nine assists on 15 for 27 shooting and had 27 first-half points with little signs of fatigue early on:
Ok, I’m going to level with you. I wrote the above words first thing this morning and let them marinate. I just couldn’t keep going. It is just too damn depressing.
LeBron and Kyrie had 39 and 38 respectively! Kevin Love contributed despite not shooting well! J.R. shot pretty great! The Cavs hung around despite Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant both having 30+ points and Steph not far behind! And for what? To lose by five!
The Cavs didn’t do everything right, obviously. For one, they shot terribly from deep. You can’t shoot at a 27% clip behind the arc and hope to beat this Warriors team even if your two best players combine for 77 points. Had the Cavs shot their season average they’d have won by four. But that’s sort of the point with this whole series – if you lapse in even one part of your game, the Warriors can take advantage and strangle the life out of you with it. In game one it was the Cavs recklessness with the ball. In game two it was, among other things, getting beat on the boards. While neither of those things were necessarily corrected in game three, the margins were closer together, and had the Cavs managed to find their three-point range, that could have mattered.
The Cavs also missed contributions from guys that were major keys to last season’s championship. Tristan Thompson continued to be a no-show. (Steph had more boards in last night’s game than Thompson has in the series, a stat that made me audibly gasp when I read it.) This was mitigated some by Love’s play, but Love also only shot one for nine from the field. Even Kyrie, who was about as offensively brilliant as you could ask, missed all seven of his three-pointers. Kyle Korver – the 2017 Cavaliers’ version of the 2013 Heat’s Ray Allen – went two for six behind the arc and one for four in the fourth quarter.
The Cavs’ final bucket came with 3:09 left to play. From that point on, the team kept searching for a dagger that would be able to put the Warriors away, and when they came up empty, the Dubs decided to rip their hearts out.
Klay dropped 30 on 11 for 18 shooting. Durant had 31 on 10 for 18 shooting and had a pretty quiet game until the last three minutes. Steph had 26 on 8 for 19 shooting. Draymond had a very Draymond-esque line eight points, eight rebounds, seven assists, a steal, a block, and five fouls early in the fourth that limited his play down the stretch. Outside of those four guys, only one other Warrior even attempted a three-pointer, and only five other Warriors scored (none in double digits). This was (mostly) four guys taking the brunt of the Cavs’ most frantic effort to make this a series and squashing it. This was demoralizing.
It wasn’t the Cavs’ best ball, but it was their best shot. And when Kevin “The Slim Reaper” Durant pulled up with 45 seconds left to drill a three and give the Dubs a one-point lead, you could feel the realization of the Cavs, QuickenLoans Arena, and really everyone watching hoping this series would be competitive that all hope was lost. The game and the series was, and is, over. (I know Durant has said he doesn’t like the Slim Reaper nickname, but you don’t get a say when you go on a 7-0 run to steal game three of the finals to almost literally murder your opponent’s chances of coming back. That’s sticking.)
This series isn’t buried yet, not with game four still to be played on Friday. But it died for good with 45 seconds left in game three, and Kevin Durant was the damn undertaker.