CLEVELAND — In the middle of his answer, Kyrie Irving sighed, still shivering from a post-game trip to the cold tub. What else could he do when he was asked why the Cavs blew their chance to make the NBA Finals an actual series?
Because for a few fleeting moments it looked like we had one. After two blowouts in Oakland, the Cavs and the Warriors treated basketball fans to a Game 3 that was a riveting, dramatic, and one the Cavs and their fans are going to lose a lot of sleep analyzing how they gave it away.
The Cavs should have won Wednesday after they got another big effort from LeBron James and Irving finally arrived on the big stage with a magical performance. Quicken Loans Arena was popping. The Cleveland faithful had watched their two superstars ball out to the tune of 77 combined points and looked like they were on the verge of earning a hard fought victory over the supremely talented Warriors.
But the Cavs couldn’t execute offensively over the final few minutes, had mental lapses on defense, and watched the biggest difference maker in the series knock down a stone cold three to give the Warriors a one-point lead with 45 seconds to go. So instead of walking off winners and feeling like the NBA Finals was finally a competitive series, the defending NBA champions sulked off the court shell shocked, 118-113 losers, and now will have to play their hearts out just to prevent the Warriors from celebrating an NBA championship on their home floor Friday.
"It definitely hurts. I'm human, as well as my teammates, and to lay it all on the line like that, you want to come out on the winning side," said Irving. "But we gave a great effort, and the result just didn't turn out the way we wanted to."
Now Game 4 is setting up to be a coronation for the greatest team in NBA postseason history. The Warriors improved to 15-0 in the playoffs because they had enough firepower to overcome James's 39 points and Irving's 38 and because the biggest difference maker of the series, Kevin Durant, hit that game-changing three that was a dagger through the hearts of the Cavs.
“I just tried to stay disciplined in my shot, hold my follow through, and it went in,” Durant said. “But more importantly we got two stops after that.”
It didn’t have to be this way, of course. But the reasons the NBA Finals are basically over are obvious. The Cavaliers’ execution down the stretch was atrocious. James bore a heavy burden of the blame for not driving to the basket down the stretch despite the Cavs scoring 46 points in the paint. He too often deferred to teammates who hoisted bad shots or even crappier threes. Cleveland didn't score a point over the final 3:09. For the second straight game, the Cavs shot 27 percent from three. Overall, the Cleveland shot 44.4 percent from the field.
"I gave everything I had tonight. So win, lose, or draw, you live with the results," James said. "Like I said, they played a really good game as well, but they made shots, they made shot down the stretch. They got stops, which they have been doing. We shot in the low 40s again. They got stops and then they made play after play down the stretch."
Durant finished with 31 points and had 14 in the fourth quarter to lead the comeback. Klay Thompson was the unsung hero for the Warriors going for 30 on 11-of-18 shooting including 6-of-11 from three. Steph Curry added 26 and was the Warriors leading rebounder with 13."
While the Warriors swear a perfect postseason has never been on their mind during this run, they changed their tune after Game 3.
“It is now because we took care of tonight," Curry said. "It's not in terms of like 16-0 really just of what that means historically, it's just that's what's in front of us. We obviously know how hard it is to win a championship, what all goes into it and how important each game is. And now that you can look ahead to Friday, all our focus is on that. And just we obviously—we want 16 wins; it doesn't matter how we get there.”
The off-season appears imminent for the Cavs, which is shocking because when your two best players play that well, you shouldn't lose games. You should extend series. Except when you're playing the greatest team in NBA postseason history.