CLEVELAND — The Golden State Warriors had a lot of warts and bumps on Wednesday night in Cleveland. They were schooled on the boards in the first half. They gave up 15 offensive rebounds on the game. Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry combined to shoot 7-for-27 from the field.
On the road, against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Warriors fell behind by as many as 13. For all their flaws, pimples and imperfections though, the Warriors have the ultimate concealer: Kevin Durant.
Thanks to a 43-point, 13-rebound, seven-assist night by Durant — the best playoff game of his career — Golden State is one game away from clinching its third NBA title in four years, taking a 3-0 NBA Finals series lead after a 110-102 win. No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 Finals deficit.
“It’s almost like playing the Patriots,” James said. “You can’t make mistakes.”
Durant went 15-of-23 from the floor and 6-of-9 from three. Since an 8-for-22 shooting performance in Game 1, Durant has now shot 25-of-37 over the last eight quarters.
“His overall game tonight was ridiculous,” head coach Steve Kerr said. “It seemed like every time we needed a bucket, he got it for us.”
After seven lead changes over the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter, Curry — who had a career-playoff-worst 21.9 percent effective field goal percentage — hit a lay-up and then turned a Kevin Love turnover into his first make from beyond the arc.
After a James three, Andre Iguodala hit a one-handed jam over Tristan Thompson, and then, Durant stepped up from the top of the arc and hit a three with 49.8 seconds to go, giving the Warriors a 106-100 lead and silencing Quicken Loans Arena. Draymond Green let out a roar. Durant was typically placid.
As Warriors guard Shaun Livingston walked off the floor, he was heard to say, “Now that’s how you take the air out of a building.”
Durant — who passed Elgin Baylor for 17th on the all-time playoff points list — joined Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal as the only players to score 25 or more points in each of their first 13 NBA Finals games.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve ever played against, and that this league has ever seen,” James said.
It took some time for the Warriors to find any kind of sync with Curry not firing, but Durant was there to keep them afloat. The Cavaliers hit six shots before the Warriors even took four, but after falling behind 16-4, Golden State managed to manufacture a 24-15 run to end the first quarter, powered by 13 points from Durant.
With Curry and Thompson failing to get in-rhythm, the Warriors force-fed Durant in isolation situations in the second quarter. They moved away from their ball-whipping offense to one based around just finding a way for Durant — who had all seven of the Warriors’ first-quarter rebounds — to keep them close.
Durant scored 11 in the second quarter, but the Golden State offense — so dependent on rebounds to get out in transition — was starved on the boards. Cleveland pulled down 28 rebounds in the first half, compared to the Warriors’ 16, and scored 10 second-chance points on 10 offensive rebounds, taking a six-point lead into the half.
“We felt very fortunate to only be down by six,” Kerr said. “I think we were down 12 early in the game and they were getting every rebound and we couldn’t make a shot.”
The Warriors then hit seven of their first 10 shots out of the locker room, outscored the Cavs by eight and upped their season-long third-quarter differential to plus-141.
Of the first 17 points Golden State scored in the third quarter, JaVale McGee — who had held James at bay in Game 2, and for six minutes in Game 1 in Iguodala’s absence — scored eight. He finished with a super-efficient 10 points in 14 minutes, on 5-of-7 shooting.
After halftime, Durant began sublimating himself into the flow of the offense. He dished out three of his seven assists, and went 4-of-7 from the floor and 2-of-3 from three.
With the return of Iguodala (plus-14 in 22 minutes) from a knee injury, and quality bench minutes from Jordan Bell (10 points in 12 minutes) and McGee, Kerr was able to keep Durant fresh, instead of keeping him on James.
“I think that was key in the first half, at the end of the first half, those guys coming in,” Durant said. “Andre and the bench did a great job of settling us down a little bit.”
James — who totaled 80 points on 29-of-52 shooting (55.8 percent) in the first two games, with 17 rebounds and 21 assists — went 13-of-28 from the field. Though he got his 10th career playoff triple-double, he had to work much harder to get clean looks.