On Wednesday, it was Kevin Durant’s turn.
His turn to crush the Cavaliers, to demoralize them after they’d done really all they could.
Golden State beat Cleveland, 110-102, behind 43 points from Durant. No other Warriors player scored more than 11 points. It is the second year in a row that the Warriors have opened the Finals by winning its first three games. Wednesday’s loss was Cleveland’s second home loss of this year’s playoffs, and first since the first round.
This wasn’t a game when James had to do everything himself just to keep Cleveland in the game. . He provided the game’s first thrilling highlight when he tossed the ball off the backboard and dunked off his own assist in the first quarter.
But from there, his much maligned supporting cast elevated their own play to meet his. Kevin Love had a double double by halftime, tenaciously chasing rebounds and scoring from inside the paint and beyond the arc. Love scored 20 points with 13 rebounds. Rodney Hood, playing in his first game of the Finals, scored 15 points, making seven of 10 shots. JR Smith finished with 13.
Instead, Durant played the role of the overburdened star.
His point guard, Stephen Curry missed his first nine three-pointers and scored only 11 points, a game after setting a Finals record with nine made threes. His power forward Draymond Green picked up three quick fouls and halfway through the fourth quarter only had eight points all game.
Wednesday’s game had two first-time contributors in this series. Andre Iguodala returned for the Warriors from a left leg injury that kept him out of games 1 and 2. Rodney Hood, who technically had seen minutes in the first two games, hadn’t played meaningful minutes in three weeks. Hood replaced Jordan Clarkson in the rotation. Clarkson did not play at all.
Playing in front of their raucous home crowd, the Cavaliers opened the game hot and physical. They knocked around the Warriors and took a 12-point lead in the first quarter when they led the Warriors 16-4. JR Smith, facing the warm embrace of a friendlier crowd scored seven first quarter points, tying Kevin Love for the team lead in that period.
As tends to happen against the Warriors, the Cavaliers couldn’t get too far ahead for too long.
The Warriors made runs at the end of the first and second quarters to cut Cleveland’s lead into single digits. They led by one point after the first quarter. Kevin Durant scored six points in the final minute of the second to cut Cleveland’s lead to six.
The Warriors made 12 of 13 first-half free throws while the Cavaliers didn’t have a single free throw attempt at the break.
At halftime, Durant had scored 24 points.
The Warriors outscored the Cavaliers by eight points in the third quarter, still unable to orchestrate in this series the type of backbreaking third quarters they made typical heading into The Finals.
The teams traded blows in the fourth, with the lead changing with nearly every possession.
But it was Kevin Durant who had the final word. He sank a three-pointer with less than a minute remaining in the game to give the Warriors a six-point lead, putting the game just out of Cleveland’s reach.
Somehow, despite scoring 26 points each in Games 1 and 2, Durant was mostly an afterthought of a storyline. Game 1’s drama and James’ 51-point performance overshadowed him last Thursday. Curry’s theatrics did on Sunday.
There was no ignoring Durant on Wednesday night in Cleveland.
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