CLEVELAND — Kevin Durant is the player most responsible for the Warriors being at the doorstep of a second straight NBA title and for LeBron James perhaps having one foot out the door in Cleveland.
The Cavaliers were more than competitive in their first two NBA Finals matchups with the Warriors. Cleveland lost in 2015 in six games, and won in 2016 in seven. But those series were BD: Before Durant.
The last two years, the Warriors have dominated the Finals. They won in five last year when Durant won MVP and are up 3-0 with a chance to sweep the series Friday night in Game 4. Durant could be named MVP again.
Durant’s numbers are staggering. Coming off his playoff career-high, 43-point virtuoso performance in Game 3, he’s averaging 31.7 points in this series and 32.6 in 13 career NBA Finals games. Durant has never scored below 25 points in a Finals game.
“You kind of take it for granted how good he is,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “You get so used to seeing him do it on a nightly basis, you forget that scoring 43 points on 22 shots in the Finals is so incredibly hard and it hasn’t been done very often. We appreciate him so much.”
James went as far as saying Durant takes so much pressure off of the other Warriors star players because they don’t have to be great every night. It was proven to a degree in Game 3 when Stephen Curry shot 3-for-16 and missed his first nine three-pointers — and Golden State won.
If James shoots 3-for-16, the Cavaliers have little-to-no shot at winning. He scored 51 points in Game 1 and they lost in overtime. But Curry didn’t necessarily agree with James’ assessment.
“I feel like every time we step foot on the floor we put pressure on ourselves to be great,” Curry said. “We all want to show up and do our jobs at a high level, because that’s what got us all to where we are today as individual players and as a team.
“KD definitely falls into that. He helps the situation, but we don’t walk on the floor like, ‘Oh, there is KD. We’re good.’ We still have to play and play hard and play well.”
The Warriors find themselves in a familiar spot, up 3-0 with a chance to close out the series in Cleveland. In the same spot last year, the Cavaliers hit an NBA Finals record 24 three-pointers and won by 21. No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs.
“Our focus is not on winning four,” Cavaliers coach Ty Lue said. “Our focus is winning Game 4. That’s got to be our mindset.”
The Warriors don’t want to give Cleveland any confidence though. They remember what happened two years ago when the Cavaliers became the first team in NBA Finals history to win a series after falling into a 3-1 hole.
But that was BD: Before Durant.