CLEVELAND — Midwesterners view sports differently than Californians.
Sure, West Coast fans are passionate about their teams and want them to win. But when you’re the main show in town, like the Cavaliers are here in Cleveland, supporters are going to expend a little more energy to see their guys win.
Imagine how much more it hurts when a game like Sunday night’s happens. Put yourself in the shoes of a Cavs fan for a moment.
After spending months of mocking your Bay Area rivals for “blowing a 3-1 lead” in the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors reload with a former MVP and coast to a 14-0 record in the playoffs before they even arrive at your building.
Now you feel you can make an impact on the game …
And it worked for most of Game 3 on Wednesday as the Cavs hung with the Dubs, securing their largest lead of the NBA Finals in the second half.
Everything remained fine as the Cavs hung on to a four-point lead with 1:15 remaining.
Kevin Durant hits a 13-footer to tighten the score. Still, the game is winnable for the home team.
But that feeling proves fleeting as, on the Warriors’ next possession with less than a minute to play, Durant pulls up for a 3-pointer in transition and hits nothing but net.
Cold-blooded, ruthless and deflating for a home crowd that Dubs fans wanted nothing more than to silence.
“I’ve played against some great teams, but I don’t think no team has had this type of firepower,” LeBron James said after the 118-113 Golden State win. “So even when you’re playing well, you got to play like A-plus-plus.”
The Cavs approached that level in Game 3. Kyrie Irving had his best game of the Finals — and by no uncertain margin — as he scored 38 points. LeBron was his typically dominant self, going for 39 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.
And it didn’t matter.
Because nothing matters against these Warriors. They instill nihilism throughout the league like no one else in modern sports. And isn’t that a beautiful thing for their fans, who get to enjoy the spoils without putting in the work?
Leave that to Klay Thompson, who emerged from an extended shooting slump in the last game and has now submitted the best performances in back-to-back Finals games of his career. He scored 16 points in the opening period alone. He made a key stop on James in the third when the much bigger forward had Thompson isolated in the post. He then shut down Irving on the pivotal possession following Durant’s go-ahead shot.
“It wasn’t just myself, it was everybody,” Thompson said after the game. “We just played with great aggressiveness, played with great pace, poise.”
It’s the last point that will protect this team from another unprecedented collapse: poise. These Warriors have been here. They’ve experienced both joy and pain. They know what the Cavs’ best shot looks like. And they’re ready for it.
“We’ve pretty much seen everything at this point,” head coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “So you get down in the fourth quarter, it’s a five-point game with six minutes left, you don’t say, ‘Oh, man, we’re down five,’ you just say, ‘there’s a ton of time left and let’s execute.’”
It also helps they have the most ridiculously stacked lineup in the league. And when combined, those things can overcome even the most passionate fans in the most hostile environment.
The fire of the Cleveland fans can have an ugly side to it as well. A group of upset fans lingered after the game to rain vitriol down on forward Tristan Thompson. Among other things, they reminded him of his stat line (0 points, 3 rebounds) and his contract (five years, $82 million). A couple people came to Thompson’s defense and what ensued was a lot of posturing and water throwing.
In other words, literally no one in the situation won.
Hours before the game, a fan parked his truck outside Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland. He emerged with a replica Larry O’Brien trophy and took a selfie of himself kissing it. This town has the Believeland thing going for it, there’s no doubt about that.
But Warriors fans have something better: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. And come Friday — or possibly Monday if Cleveland can steal Game 4 — they’ll have the upper hand in the rivalry.
Contact Jacob C. Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.
Cleveland CavaliersDraymond GreenGolden State WarriorsKevin DurantKlay ThompsonKyrie IrvingLeBron JamesNBANBA FinalsNBA PlayoffsStephen CurrySteve Kerrtyronn lue