CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers treated Game 3 of the NBA Finals Wednesday night like they were facing elimination. They played with urgency, effort and passion for almost the entire game, and LeBron James finally got some real help on the offensive end.
But instead of getting back in the series they collapsed down the stretch against the Warriors. The Cavs went the final 3:09 without scoring, and now the reigning champs are facing elimination.
Kevin Durant led an 11-0 game-ending run, as the Warriors stunned the Cavaliers with a 118-113 victory and took a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.
Durant scored 14 of his 31 points in the fourth, including seven straight in the final 1:15. Durant, who is chasing his first NBA championship, buried the go-ahead three-pointer over James with 45.3 seconds remaining, and made two foul shots with 12.9 seconds to go make it 116-113.
“He took over,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “You could tell he knows this is his moment. He senses this is his time, his moment, his team. When I say his team, I don’t mean literally. We’ve got a group around him that can help him and create space for him, and I think he’s having the time of his life.”
No team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. This one could end here Friday night in Game 4.
“It’s obviously a dramatic situation to be in,” James said.
No one has beaten the Warriors in this postseason. They’re a perfect 15-0, and could become the first NBA team to go undefeated in the playoffs. The Cavaliers, however, are a beaten team.
They gave the Warriors their best shot and still lost.
James had 39 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. Kyrie Irving added 38 points. J.R. Smith, who totaled just three points in the first two games, had 16. Yet they still couldn’t beat the Warriors.
Klay Thompson finished with 30 points for the Warriors and Curry scored 26 and collected 13 rebounds.
“It’s probably the most firepower I’ve played in my career,” James said. “Even when you’re playing well, you got to play like A-plus plus because they’re going to make runs, they’re going to make shots and they got guys who are going to make plays.”
The Cavaliers were seemingly in control in the most competitive game of the series. They led 113-107 after Smith drained a three-pointer with 3:09 left. The crowd erupted. But the Cavaliers couldn’t close it out.
They started scrambling and were out of sync while the Warriors showed the poise of a championship team.
“Overall it was an incredibly tough, resilient performance,” Kerr said. “It was maybe our toughest in terms of our ability to just hang in there. Nothing was really going our way but we were still there. We had to stay with it and our guys did a great job of that.”
After Durant’s free throws made it a three-point game, the Cavaliers had a chance to tie it.
James had the ball in the corner, but his three-point attempt was stuffed by Andre Iguodala. James got the rebound but he stepped out of bounds. Stephen Curry put the finishing touches on the game with two foul shots with 9.6 seconds left.
“It hurts,” Irving said.
The momentum started to shift in Cleveland’s favor in the third as Irving scored 16 of the Cavaliers’ 33 points. They led by seven late in the quarter.
The Cavs were up 108-102 with 5:29 left in the fourth after Irving drove, scored and converted a three-point play. But the Warriors quickly cut it to 108-107 following a Curry put-back inside and a Thompson corner three-pointer in transition with 4:40 to go.
James made two free throws 12 seconds later to put the Cavs up three. It stayed that way until James drove and fed Smith for a three-pointer, which became their final basket.
A Curry fastbreak layup made it 113-109 with 2:19 to go. The Cavaliers had two chances to score on the next trip but Irving’s driving layup rimmed out and James misfired on a turnaround fadeaway jumper.
Durant brought the Warriors within 113-111 with a runner with 1:15 remaining. After a timeout, James drove and kicked it to Kyle Korver in the corner. But the sharpshooter missed a three-pointer.
After Durant hit the go-ahead three, Irving’s jumper with 26.5 seconds left was short and rebounded by Curry with about 24 seconds left. Forced to foul, the Cavaliers tied up Durant, who made both free throws and helped bring the Warriors within one win of the title.
“I never been in this position before,” Durant said. “I don’t want to relax. It’s not over. I’m just trying to enjoy this moment.”