This was not exactly the same shot from Kevin Durant.
Game 3 of the NBA Finals again, yes.
Left wing pull-up, yes.
Back in Cleveland, yes.
Final minute again, yes.
But this one was deeper than his dagger was a year ago — and it cut deeper as well. And on a night where Stephen Curry couldn’t shoot and Klay Thompson wasn’t much better, Durant put the Golden State Warriors on his slender shoulders and carried them to the brink of becoming back-to-back NBA champions for the first time.
Durant’s 33-footer was the final act in his 43-point night, and the Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 110-102 in Game 3 of the finals on Wednesday night to take a 3-0 lead in the title series for the second straight season. A year ago, his shot from a bit closer — 26 feet, officially — put the Warriors ahead to stay in what became a five-point win. This time, the longer one put Golden State up by six and sent fans starting to head toward the exits.
“Different game, different season, different feel,” Durant shrugged afterward, knowing full well how similar it was to the one he hit last season and knowing what it means right now. “Just a different vibe around the team.”
No, it isn’t.
That team had a championship vibe. Soon, maybe Friday, maybe not until Monday, this team will have the same.
This was why the Warriors needed Durant, and this is why Durant needed the Warriors. He was an elite player before he went to Golden State. He’s now about to be a two-time champion because he went to Golden State. And it’s a reminder to the rest of the NBA that when the free-agency shopping kiosks open on July 1, this is the team to be chasing.
They did not have a super regular season. They are a Superteam, without question.
— NBA (@NBA) June 7, 2018
To win any NBA Finals game, on the road, when LeBron James has a triple-double, when they trailed most of the night, when the deficit was as many as 13 early, when Curry and Thompson shot a combined 7 for 27 … only a Superteam can pull that off.
“It’s almost like playing the Patriots,” Cleveland superstar LeBron James said Wednesday night. “You can’t have mistakes. They’re not going to beat themselves. You know, so when you’re able to either force a miscue on them, you have to be able to capitalize and you have to be so in tuned and razor sharp and focused every single possession. You can’t have miscommunication, you can’t have flaws … because they’re going to make you pay.”
James had a triple-double. He’s three rebounds shy of averaging one in this series. He even had the highlight play of the series, a shot (which was really a pass) off the backboard to himself that he rebounded and viciously dunked. And he’s still down 3-0.
He’s not conceding. But he is clearly tipping his cap to the Warriors, his nemesis in each of the last four Junes and a team that’s one win shy of beating him in three of those series.
“That’s what championship teams do,” James said. “That’s what championship players do. They rise to the occasion, and that’s what Golden State has done the last four years.”
Durant has made quite a career out of rising to the occasion.
He was amused earlier in this series by a question that suggested the defining moment of his career was the 3-pointer in Game 3 last season. (“You know, I had a pretty solid career before I hit that shot, I felt,” Durant said.) He will be equally amused when he gets asked if the shot he made Wednesday will also be a defining moment. He’s been an MVP, a Finals MVP, an Olympic gold medalist already.
This is just what’s next.
“I was definitely excited,” said Durant, who tends to try and keep emotions to himself. “It’s hard to make shots at this level in the NBA and I understand that. But at the same time I knew the game wasn’t over.”
It may as well have been. Cleveland got within four on the next possession after Durant’s dagger, but never any closer.
“They have a number of guys that can bail their team out on any play, any game, any possession,” Cleveland’s Kevin Love said. “And he’s been that for them a number of times. Defenses try to plan for him, but when you’re 6-11, 7-feet and you’re shooting a lazy pullup on the left wing from 27 feet that’s pretty tough to guard.”
For the record, Durant made every effort to defer the credit Wednesday night. He didn’t think his shot was the biggest of the game. He thought Curry’s lone 3-pointer in 10 tries — one that put the Warriors up by four with 2:38 remaining — carried more weight, and he might have been right.
But Durant finished it off. The game. The season. The title, basically.
“You know, we’ve got a lot of depth,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can play, and they’re all chipping in. But we should probably go back to Kevin Durant, shouldn’t we? That was amazing what he did.” (Tim Reynolds, AP)