CLEVELAND — The Golden State Warriors survived the Cleveland Cavaliers’ powerful Game 3 counterpunch and, in doing so, are now just an inch from the most sparkling run to an NBA title in history.
Trailing for much of the second half, the Warriors clawed back in the fourth quarter and beat the Cavaliers 118-113, bumping them up 3-0 in these NBA Finals, pushing them to 15-0 in these playoffs and planting them on the doorstep of unprecedented playoff perfection.
Of the 15 wins, this was the toughest. LeBron James was a human freight train the entire night, going off for 39 points and coming one assist shy of a triple-double. And unlike the first two games, he finally had help from his co-star, Kyrie Irving, who scored 38 on a number of slithery moves and creative finishes at the rim.
But in the end, it was the Warriors’ stars who survived a raucous environment, a two-pronged offensive attack and a seven-point fourth-quarter hole, erasing many of the demons that plagued them from a season ago.
Steph Curry was incredible much of the night, going for 26 points, a team-high 13 rebounds, six assists and only one turnover. Klay Thompson parlayed his huge Game 2 into a bigger Game 3, nailing six of the Warriors’ 16 3s and hitting 30 points for the first time in this postseason. He kept them afloat early.
But Kevin Durant (31 points, eight rebounds, four assists), the frontrunner for Finals MVP, drove the Warriors home in the final sequence.
With less than two minutes left, the Warriors trailed by four and their perfect playoffs were in peril. But with 1:15 left, Durant powerfully pushed Kevin Love back on a drive, got to about 12 feet out and planted a floater to pull the Warriors within two.
On the ensuing possession, Kyle Korver got a decent look at a 3 from the corner, which would’ve put the Cavaliers back up five with less than a minute left. But the sharpshooter bricked the shot that will likely haunt his offseason memories. Durant climbed high for the defensive rebound and then, six seconds later, made maybe the biggest shot of his storied career.
Durant pushed the rebound into the frontcourt and, without hesitation, pulled up for a deep transition 3. The shot gave the Warriors a one-point lead with 45 seconds left.
On the next possession, Irving tried to go to work on Thompson, eventually finding himself on that same spot on the right wing where he won the NBA Finals last year. But despite Irving’s offensive exploits on this night — he was 16 of 22 on two-point shots — he was 0 of 7 from 3. That seventh brick came with 26 seconds left when he left it short.
Curry grabbed the huge rebound, his 13th, and Durant eventually received the ball and absorbed the foul. He hit both free throws, giving up seven points in 63 seconds — a personal 7-0 run that essentially won this game. The Warriors led by three.
But they still needed one more stop. After a timeout, the Cavaliers drew up a play to get James a corner 3. James navigated into that spot, caught, turned and set up to fire.
But Andre Iguodala, who has had a quiet postseason, made the biggest defensive play of the night, stripping James and knocking it off his leg out of bounds. Curry got the ensuing inbounds, absorbed the foul and made the game-sealing free throws.
Perfection is one game away.