CLEVELAND — The game was tight late in the second half, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors were playing about as poorly as they could. They both looked as if they were launching the ball into a stiff breeze.
Of all the ominous, no-good, soul-crushing signs for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night, that had to be the worst: Two of the best shooters on the planet were unable to shoot straight, and the Warriors were still hanging around. Such is the luxury of their all-world roster.
It was only a matter of time before Golden State emerged victorious, claiming a 110-102 win in Game 3 of the N.B.A. finals for a three-games-to-none lead in the best-of-seven series. The Warriors can clinch back-to-back championships — and their third title in four seasons — in Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena on Friday night.
“We had our chances,” the Cavaliers’ LeBron James said.
Kevin Durant led the Warriors with 43 points and 13 rebounds, and his team needed all of his heroics. Golden State also benefited from an unexpected star turn from JaVale McGee, who started at center and finished with 10 points.
Three days after setting a finals record with nine 3-pointers in Game 2, Curry labored to 11 points while shooting 3 of 16 from the field. Thompson had 11 points. But Curry made a key 3-pointer — his only one of the game — late in the fourth quarter to put the Warriors ahead by 4. And after Andre Iguodala soared for a dunk, Durant drained a 3-pointer from 33 feet to all but seal the win.
“That was incredible what he did out there tonight,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said of Durant. “Some of those shots, I don’t think anybody in the world can hit those but him.”
James did all he could for the Cavaliers, collecting 33 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. As far as solo acts go in the N.B.A. finals, the world is witnessing one of the more extraordinary examples. In Game 3, James actually got significant help from his teammates for a change — help that seemed even more necessary after he twisted his right ankle in the second quarter.
“I twisted it pretty good,” James said.
Kevin Love finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds, and Rodney Hood scored 15 points off the bench.
But still, it did not really matter — not against the Warriors.
“You can’t have miscommunications,” James said. “You can’t have lulls. You can’t have ‘my bads.’ Because they’re going to make you pay.”
Golden State had an additional benefit in the return of Iguodala, their veteran forward. He had not played since May 20, when he sustained a bone bruise in his left knee during Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. But the talent-rich Warriors advanced past the Houston Rockets without him — albeit in seven games — and took the first two games against the Cavaliers with him on the bench.
But Iguodala is a handyman for Golden State: He does a bit of everything, and is also one of the team’s most effective defenders against James. Again, the Warriors were so potent on offense that they could overcome James’s heroics through the first two games of the series. But they knew that having Iguodala back for Game 3 would provide some insurance.
“He just never gets tired,” Kerr said, “even when he’s been out two and a half weeks and hasn’t really been running much at all. He’s still able to play through all of that.”
Iguodala entered the game midway through the first quarter, then collected his first points on a dunk just over a minute later. In his 22 minutes of playing time, the Warriors outscored the Cavaliers by 14 points.
It was also the first game back home for the Cavaliers’ J. R. Smith since his well-publicized foible in Game 1, when he got the score wrong in the closing seconds of regulation and ran the wrong way with the ball. The Cavaliers wound up losing in overtime, and it loomed as one of the more deflating gaffes in recent postseason history — maybe ever.
Afterward, Smith said he was glad that it had happened to him, because he was not sure that everyone would be able to handle the fallout. (Then again, not everyone would make that sort of mistake in the first place. But we digress.)
The result of his error was that the Cavaliers returned to Cleveland in dire need of a win, rather than having a series tied at one game apiece. During player introductions, Smith was warmly received by the crowd. Then, he helped get the Cavaliers off to a strong start.
The Cavaliers made their first three shots, including a 3-pointer and a runner from Smith. Then came James, barreling down the paint after throwing a pass to himself off the backboard. As he rose, he collected the ball and then dunked, in a fluid motion. The roof of the building seemed in danger of blowing away.
The first half, by contrast, was a nightmare for Curry, who picked up two early fouls. Knowing that Curry would be fearful of picking up his third, James kept hunting for pick-and-rolls that involved Curry, trying to get Curry to defend him. James also got into the lane and acted as a facilitator, kicking passes to teammates for open 3-pointers. Cleveland led by as many as 13.
The Warriors were so disjointed that they came out of a timeout in the second quarter and were called for a 24-second violation. Draymond Green spent much of the first half screaming at the officials. Only Durant, who scored 24 points in the first half, appeared capable of keeping the game competitive. The Warriors trailed at halftime, 58-52.
But given the struggles of Curry and Thompson that stretched into the second half — well, Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue made a logical conclusion afterward.
“You would think you’d win that game,” he said.
But Durant is not an ordinary player, and the Warriors are not an ordinary team. Another coronation is almost complete.
Here’s how the Warriors won Game 3, from Benjamin Hoffman in New York and Marc Stein in Cleveland:
Draymond Green picked up his fifth foul of the game, and that sent Kevin Love to the line for a pair of free-throws, and he hit them both to put Cleveland up 97-96. Kevin Durant brought the ball up the floor and he fed Draymond Green, who hit Stephen Curry under the basket for a nice layup. An Andre Iguodala steal got Golden State the ball back and then Curry woke up from the perimeter, finally hitting his first 3-pointer of the game, which briefly had Golden State up by four, though LeBron James immediately answered with a 3 of his own. Andre Iguodala got a wide-open lane and went in for an easy dunk and the Warriors got a huge steal from Klay Thompson on a bad pass, capitalizing on a huge 3-pointer from Durant to stretch their lead to six.
The entire sequence of events was a display of the difference between having several superstars on a team versus having the best player in basketball on the other side. James is once again playing a terrific game, but when Golden State gets multiple guys going it is too much for Cleveland to compete with.
With less than a minute to play, Cleveland needs some sort of miracle to avoid going down 3-0.
Marc Stein: The Warriors haven’t been able to go to their Hamptons 5 lineup since Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. But they’re closing this crucial Game 3 of the finals with it — as you’d expect — and suddenly they’re all clicking. Especially Kevin Durant, who — as we’ve already established in this space — loves Game 3 on the road in the N.B.A. finals.
LeBron James put Cleveland ahead with a pair of free-throws courtesy of a foul by Andre Iguodala, but as he has so many times tonight, Kevin Durant answered with a midrange jumper that gave him 40 points for the night. The teams traded awkward offensive possessions in which no one could seemingly execute and with the Cavaliers calling a timeout with 3:19 left in the game, the Warriors are clinging to a one-point lead.
James has a triple-double with 28 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, while Durant has been the standout performer in the game, contributing 13 rebounds and 6 assists to go with his huge point total.
Stephen Curry, meanwhile, is 0 for 9 from 3-point range.
Marc Stein: Yet another stat that doesn’t make sense: Golden State is 0-4 this postseason when Kevin Durant cracks the 40-point barrier. He’s up to 40 points tonight.
The difference in Stephen Curry tonight cannot be overstated. Coming off a Tristan Thompson miss, Curry passed up a chance at a contested 3-pointer with Kevin Love in front of him, and then also deferred when he got close to the basket by passing out to a wide-open Draymond Green, who missed. The Cavs answered with a quick score that briefly gave them a lead, but Andre Iguodala snatched the lead back with a layup. The Cavs called a timeout, but it is Steve Kerr and the Warriors who likely need to make some adjustments if they don’t want to let a winnable game on the road slip away.
Marc Stein: Let me say it again: Golden State might find a way to seize another 3-0 series lead by night’s end, but this Game 3 — after a wild Game 1 — has delivered top-shelf N.B.A. drama. Ignore anyone who suggests these finals are snooze.
Stephen Curry continues to miss and Kevin Durant continues to make. Curry is now 0 for 9 from 3-point range and the Warriors are being absolutely carried by Durant’s 38 points. But credit goes to Cleveland for adjusting their defense to take out Curry, as they seem to be able to keep up with this version of the Warriors offense.
LeBron James is playing aggressively on offense, clearly with the thought that he must take over the game for his team to win, but Rodney Hood has been an incredible Robin to James’s Batman in this half, and that two-man team is making a Cleveland win seem possible.
Marc Stein: Stephen Curry’s struggles are hard to believe given the way he started this series; Curry is 1-for-14 from the field and 0-for-9 from deep with 6:05 to go in regulation. But an unexpected 20 points combined from big men JaVale McGee and Jordan Bell — along with all the havoc Kevin Durant is wreaking — is mitigating the damage for Golden State. For a series that was supposed to be so predictable, we’re getting a lot of surprises. A lot.
Rodney Hood got the first two points of the fourth for Cleveland and Jordan Bell got the first two for Golden State as the offense in this game from both teams continues to be far different from what we saw in Games 1 and 2.
After a Golden State turnover, and an airball from LeBron James, Bell went in for a wide-open dunk, and despite missing it, he drew a foul and then hit one of two free-throws in what has been a terrific night for the rookie.
Cleveland turned the ball over on a strange travel by Kyle Korver, but got the ball back when Stephen Curry missed yet again, and LeBron James sank a pair of free-throws. Another Curry miss and Rodney Hood connected on a short shot to put Cleveland up by one.
This has been a team effort from the Cavs, but the re-emergence of Hood is a great story regardless of how the game finishes.
A Shaun Livingston dunk on an assist by Kevin Durant got the lead back to three points, but LeBron James absolutely muscled his way to the hoop to get it back to one. Klay Thompson blew past J.R. Smith for a layup, and Rodney Hood got one of the points back with a free-throw after he was fouled on a shot attempt.
That led to a final minute of the third in which both teams had trouble scoring, with missed shots and a Golden State turnover making a short rest from LeBron James not really affect the game in either way. James checked back in with 4.3 seconds left, as did Draymond Green, and James launched a 3-pointer that was well short of the mark as the buzzer rang.
The Warriors are leading the game by two points, but Cleveland seemed to endure Golden State’s largest blow without crumbling, and especially at home this seems like a winnable game for them with a decent fourth quarter.
Kevin Durant is dominating with 34 points, but he will need some help from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson if he is going to hold off Kevin Love and James.
Marc Stein: Game 6 of the Western Conference finals is Klay Thompson’s favorite game — and Game 3 of the NBA Finals is Kevin Durant’s favorite. Remember the series-turning dagger Durant hit over LeBron James in Game 3 of the 2017 Finals? Durant enters the fourth quarter of this Game 3 with 34 points on 17 shots. The Cavaliers have to feel fortunate to only be trailing by two points entering the fourth quarter — especially with LeBron’s movement potentially hampered by that ankle he twisted in the first half.
Andre Iguodala came back into the game after injuring his right leg in the first half, but the Warriors are at least temporarily without Stephen Curry, who headed back to the locker room for an unspecified reason. The Cavaliers have been beaten up in this quarter, but after Rodney Hood sank a 14-footer with 2:42 left in the third, Golden State called a timeout to try to regroup and come up with a way to get back on an offensive run.
After a timeout, the Cavaliers once again had a frustrating offensive possession where they couldn’t score despite repeatedly getting the ball into LeBron James’s hands. But they took advantage of a rare Kevin Durant miss when James ran the court and tossed the ball in with a layup to stop the bleeding.
That started a run in which Cleveland got 3-pointers from George Hill and J.R. Smith, while Golden State got them from Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
Durant pulled down his 13th rebound on a LeBron James miss, and then he fed Draymond Green for a huge dunk that got the Warriors’ lead back up to five. Tristan Thompson sneaked a hook shot over JaVale McGee’s outstretched fingers, but Durant answered with a turnaround jumper that gave him 34 points for the game.
The scary thing about the sequence as far as Cleveland is concerned is that they were playing extremely well on both ends, but somehow are still down five points.
A run of nine consecutive points by Golden State was broken up by Kevin Love making a free-throw courtesy of a 3-second violation by JaVale McGee. That seemed to wake up Cleveland, who then forced a turnover and got a great finish on a layup by Tristan Thompson, who was fouled on the play but couldn’t connect on his free-throw attempt.
But the Warriors have owned the third quarter all season, and they didn’t allow the momentum to swing. McGee got into double-figures with a 1-footer, which put Golden State back on top, and Kevin Durant blocked a shot by LeBron James to put the Warriors back on offense. After a foul, Draymond Green fed Kevin Durant for an easy two points, and on an ensuing possession Green put Golden State up by five with a layup. Ty Lue once again called a timeout, frustrated with a game that was starting to slip away. The Warriors are up 17-6 in the quarter so far.
The Cavaliers finally got their first free-throw attempt in the first minute of the second half, and LeBron James made it. That was about the only good thing in the start of the half for Cleveland, as the Warriors got six quick points from JaVale McGee and a long 3-pointer from Kevin Durant. The 9-3 run has Golden State tied with Cleveland, 61-61 with 10:13 left in the third. The swing in momentum forced Tyronn Lue to try to break things up with a timeout. The offensive explosion for the Warriors was certainly helpful, but it was also announced that Andre Iguodala had injured his right leg in the half and was not certain to return. Iguodala had been out with a left leg injury, so this something new for him to work through.
In the final minute of the half, Cleveland got a dunk from Larry Nance but couldn’t capitalize on LeBron James having the ball under a basket thanks to some terrific team defense from Golden State. Then, with 0.8 seconds left in the half, Kevin Durant knocked down a long 3-pointer to make it 58-52 at the half.
Durant had been attacked some in recent weeks for forcing isolation plays when the team has typically relied more on passing the ball to set up open looks. He played their way in Game 2, but seems to see the writing on the wall in Game 3. His personal aggressiveness is one of the few things preventing this from being a blowout. He had 24 points and eight rebounds in the half, absolutely propping up his struggling teammates. Meanwhile, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have combined to shoot 3 of 15 from the field for 7 points.
The Cavaliers, thanks to a much more balanced approach, have three players scoring in double-figures, with Kevin Love’s 15 points leading LeBron James’s 14 and J.R. Smith’s 10.
The question now is if Golden State has one of its big third quarters in store for the Cavaliers, or if Cleveland can continue to thwart those adjustments with adjustments of their own as they did in the first two games of the series.
Marc Stein: When the Cavaliers turned their Eastern Conference finals series with Boston around after falling into a 2-0 hole, it started in Game 3 with Cleveland’s 17 3-pointers at home in that must-win game. In tonight’s Game 3 of the N.B.A. finals, Cleveland rung up six first-half 3s, but the hosts will have to get hotter to counter the ridiculous Kevin Durant show we’re getting. Kevin Love’s 15 points and 10 rebounds have been huge for the Cavaliers after Love was just 1-for-9 on 3-point attempts in the first two games off a direct LeBron James pass.
Two massive disparities jump off the halftime stat sheet. The visiting Warriors have attempted 13 free throws to Cleveland’s … zero? The Cavaliers, meanwhile, hold a 28-16 advantage on the boards. Can’t wait to see where Durant (24 points already) and LeBron (14 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds) end up.
A charging call on LeBron James ended up being turned into a blocking foul on the defense, but unlike in Game 1, when it benefited the Warriors, this time it was changed in favor of the Cavs. Just as important, the Cavaliers took advantage of the extended possession by getting a layup from the rejuvenated Rodney Hood.
Golden State has not been able to get into its ball-movement offense at all, settling for a series of bad jumpers and dunk attempts, and even with Kevin Durant getting a difficult jumper, and turning it into a 3-point play with the ensuing free-throw, they trail by 7 points with less than a minute left in the half.
Kevin Love extended Cleveland’s lead to 13 points with a 3-pointer in the last four minutes of the first half, and while the Warriors quickly cut it back to 8, the Cavs kept pushing. After they got it back to 10, they managed to induce Draymond Green’s third foul of the game, sending the key cog in the Golden State attack to the bench for what will almost certainly be the rest of the half.
Kevin Love stretched Cleveland’s lead to 10 points with a 3-pointer that barely beat the shot clock, and then he outfought the Warriors for a rebound on the defensive end. He then took advantage of a loose ball on offense, picking it up and laying it in to extend the lead to 12. It was a sequence where Love looked like the superstar that he has often been in his career, even if it has become a somewhat rare sight this season as he worked his way through some injuries. The power forward had a double-double with 20 or more points in each of the first two games of the series, and he’s already up to 12 and 9 in this game.
LeBron James turned his right ankle slightly on an offensive play and was unable to head back on defense, but he did not come out of the game. A few moments later he was backing toward the basket with the ball and helped set up J.R. Smith for a huge 3-pointer. It was the type of sequence you wouldn’t expect to see from any player other than James, who seems almost impervious to the effects of injury. On Cleveland’s next possession, James threaded his way to the hoop right past the rookie Jordan Bell, scoring easily, and forcing Steve Kerr to burn another timeout.
James is now up to a game-high 14 points, clearly having taken the reins back from an offense that was doing well, but not well enough to create much separation from the Warriors.
Marc Stein: Shaun Livingston made his first 11 shots in these N.B.A. finals. Even more surprising: It was a blocked shot from the scarcely-used Rodney Hood that ended Livingston’s unblemished run.
LeBron James deferred to his teammates in the first quarter, but early in the second, with the lead slipping away, he showed some aggressiveness in getting to the basket, and even when he missed the shot, he got his own offensive rebound and put the ball in for 2 points. Cleveland got a long 2-pointer from Rodney Hood, and a layup by James to put the lead back up to seven points when Steve Kerr had seen enough and took another timeout. The roles thus far are essentially reversed of where they had been in the two games in Oakland, with the Warriors constantly playing catch-up. And Stephen Curry isn’t helping so far, with as many fouls (2) as he has points.
We knew the rest of the Cavaliers’ roster would contribute more with the game in Cleveland, but the fact that the team got off to such a strong start while LeBron James had just 6 points in the first quarter was somewhat stunning.
Cleveland looked like they might run up a huge lead, especially with the Warriors not getting their first 3-pointer until there were less than two minutes left in the period, but consecutive 3-pointers by Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant got Golden State back into it. The game was actually tied with 10 seconds left in the quarter when Jeff Green connected from 3-point range to give his team a brief 29-26 lead, which was brought back to 29-28 after a pair of free-throws from Durant with 1 second left.
The Cavaliers are undoubtedly happy to be ahead, but it still seems like a wasted opportunity that they were not able to capitalize more on Golden State’s slow start.
Marc Stein: The Warriors missed their first six 3-pointers, Draymond Green teetered on the edge of an early ejection … and Golden State trails by a whopping one point. After a quarter. Nerves are suddenly tangible along with the noise at The Q.
Draymond Green and Tristan Thompson each received technical fouls after an argument, which will leave them little room for error as the game progresses, as another technical would result in their ejection. For Green, who is known to argue with referees all game, the decision could certainly alter his approach. Coach Tyronn Lue called a timeout with 3:38 remaining in the quarter, and despite Golden State having somewhat recovered from an atrocious start on offense, they still are trailing the red-hot Cavaliers by 8 points.
Marc Stein: Green racked up only three technical fouls in the first three rounds of the playoffs. But with two in this series already, he’s suddenly just two more technicals away from a one-game suspension.
Kevin Durant sank a midrange jumper to end Golden State’s cold streak on offense and after a turnover, Draymond Green finished a fast break all by himself with a dunk. They seemed to be righting the ship a bit when Stephen Curry was whistled for his second foul of the game. He is staying in the game so far. Even Andre Iguodala checking into the game midway through the quarter didn’t seem to yield immediate results as the wing was immediately hit with a foul call.
Marc Stein: Maybe we have to stop saying that LeBron James has no help. The crowd here at The Q is clearly sick of all the sweep talk and making some quality noise. The Warriors have won four finals games here over the years — but they never enjoy visits to this building. Draymond Green in particular is already on the edge.
Cleveland is showing far more effort in the early minutes of the game, with Steve Kerr calling a timeout with 7:57 remaining in the first quarter to try to settle his team down. The Cavs are fighting for offensive rebounds, playing aggressive defense, making the shots the Warriors give them and benefiting from Golden State’s shots not falling yet. Beyond JaVale McGee having a terrific dunk and a solid block attempt of a shot attempt by Tristan Thompson, there is little good on the Warriors’s side to cite so far.
With early 3-pointers by both Kevin Love and J.R. Smith, the Cavaliers seemed to be showing early that they were planning on getting more of LeBron James’s teammates involved. In all, the first 10 Cleveland points came from players other than James, with the streak finally broken when James threw an alley-oop to himself off the backboard to give the Cavaliers an early 12-4 lead. It is hard to imagine a better start for the Cleveland offense.
Marc Stein: In the second half of Cleveland’s Game 4 rout in the 2017 N.B.A. finals, LeBron James flung the ball off the backboard underhanded from behind the free-throw line and dunked home the ball off the glass. In Wednesday night’s must-win Game 3 of the 2018 N.B.A. finals, attacking the other basket, LeBron did it again. Ridiculous.
Tristan Thompson won the tip for Cleveland and Kevin Love immediately hit an open 3-pointer, and Game 3 of the finals is underway.