Having made the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history to beat Golden State last year, the Cleveland Cavaliers need an even better rally to defend the crown after Wednesday’s 118-113 loss to the Warriors.
Golden State’s Kevin Durant scored 31 points, including seven in a game-ending 11-0 run that stretched the Warriors’ playoff unbeaten run to 15-0 and their lead in the best-of-seven championship series to 3-0.
No team has ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit to win an NBA playoff series in 126 attempts, although no club had rallied from 3-1 down in the NBA Finals until the Cavs did it last year to defeat the Warriors.
And while the Cavaliers are far from surrendering, there is a sense the addition of Durant has made Golden State a much harder team to vanquish even once — let alone four times.
“They’re a juggernaut of a team,” said Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving, who scored 38 points in game three. “They do a great job of spacing out the floor, keeping a high tempo and just made some big-time plays down the stretch.
“We have to come out with an unbelievable mindset, unbelievable focus like we have and limit some of the things they’re comfortable at.”
For superstar LeBron James, who achieved a life dream by rallying his hometown Cavaliers last year to win Cleveland’s first major sport title in 52 years, the focus will be on improving every possession in every quarter.
“It’s a dramatic situation to be in,” James said. “We’re going to come in tomorrow, watch some film, see ways we can get better and just try to take it one game at a time.
“I’ve got to go home, get my mind focused and get my body focused for game four and we take it one possession at a time.”
James had 39 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in 45 minutes, tiring at the end as even his indomitable will was found wanting when guarding Durant on a pivotal 3-pointer with 45 seconds remaining that gave Golden State the lead for good.
“I gave everything that I had, so at times throughout the game I was tired, but that’s just because I was just playing as hard as I could,” James said. “But I was able to get second and third and fourth winds. I don’t contribute as losing this game because we got tired. We missed some shots, and they made some.”
Asked if he thought the Warriors had taken the best shot Cleveland had to give, James said, “It’s so hard to say, but for me personally, I gave everything I had, so win, lose or draw you live with the results.
“They played a really good game as well, but they made shots down the stretch. They got stops and then they made play after play down the stretch.”
“You go against a team like this and you put together a game like we had where we had an opportunity, it’s definitely draining.”
Irving felt it as well.
“But game four, I look forward to it,” Irving said. “Another challenge for us to get better and go against a great team.”
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said he never considered resting James or Irving with the game on the line.
“I decided to stick with those guys, being at home, down 0-2. Great players, they always dig deep and have their will to win. And they gave us everything they had,” Lue said.
“Durant made eight straight points that was very critical, three big shots, and that’s why they brought him here, for those situations.
“They’re a great team, but I think we’re a great team also. They’re playing at a high level. Our team scrapped and competed. I can’t be disappointed with the effort.”