CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – A Game 4 win and an NBA Championship would be the ultimate culmination for the Golden State Warriors’ season, completing the first ever sweep through the playoffs.
Unless the Cavaliers pull off the ultimate upset, becoming the first team to erase a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series, Wednesday’s Game 3 was the emotional culmination for Cavaliers fans.
Expectations had Cleveland and Golden State pitted against each other in an NBA Finals rubber match since the Cavaliers completed their historic 3-1 comeback on June 19, 2016. Every moment since the last Game 7 had been a slow burn to this moment, and the expectations were cemented when Kevin Durant landed in Oakland.
When each team completed their seemingly inevitable Conference titles, all in all everything between the two teams seemed equal. Each team had a win in the past two Finals, and each team had a win against each other in the regular season with Durant in play.
Then the Cavaliers went down 2-0 unceremoniously in the 2017 Finals out West, and the justifications began, albeit legitimate ones. They had been in that position before, they were coming home, and a series does not really start until a team wins on the road. As the Cavs lost a single game in the East, not much extra was to be thought of the Warriors sweeping through the west.
Things proverbially started, and statistically ended when the Warriors came into Quicken Loans Arena and dealt the defending champs and their fans the most heart-wrenching loss in the city since early November.
The Cavaliers played about as well as they conceivably could, with 77 combined points from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on 31-of-56 shooting, opening up a seven-point lead on the Warriors in the 3rd quarter.
James was not willing to say the Warriors had gotten the Cavs’ best shot, but he doubled-down on his thought that he is playing against the best team he has seen.
“Even when you’re playing well, you got to play like A plus plus, because they’re going to make runs and they’re going to make shots and they got guys that’s going to make plays,” he said. “So we made enough plays tonight to still win the ball game, but they made a couple more.
“But you’re going against a team like this and you put together a game like we had where we had an opportunity, it’s definitely draining.”
As he has been all series, and predictably so, Durant was the ultimate tipping point, taking the Warriors from the brink of their first playoff loss since June 16 a year ago to victory. The Slim Reaper reared his head with a seven-point run to steal back a lead the Cavs had held for 14 minutes of game action.
It did not take a whole lot of consideration to realize Kevin Durant would tip the scales westward, but the former MVP has proven to be not only talented, but demoralizing.
Irving admitted as much, alluding to the fact that Durant is a piece that no one else has.
“He was their closer tonight, for sure,” Irving said. “Doing what he is supposed to be doing. He got to a spot, got a switch out on Tristan, hits a big-time shot baseline and then, I mean, just hits an unbelievable game winner, just comes down in transition, that only Kevin Durant can hit.”
The Cavaliers now have nothing to lose, but they may have already lost what they had left emotionally.