Kevin Durant put Golden State in this position with a magnificent performance in Wednesday night's 110-102 victory, scoring a playoff-career high 43 points while adding 13 rebounds and seven assists. His last basket, a pull-up 33-footer with 49.8 seconds to play, gave Golden State a six-point lead and evoked memories of a similar Game 3 dagger last year that, like this one, effectively ended the NBA Finals.
It was the second time in three games in this series the Cavaliers had a chance to steal a game, though unlike Game 1, the Warriors won it thanks to Durant's transcendence as opposed to the Cavaliers losing it. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for just 21 points, Curry averaged 25.8 points and Thompson 20.6 entering Game 3, and made seven of 27 shots overall, though Curry contributed five key points late, including a clutch three-pointer after he missed 13 of his first 14 shots.
The Warriors are now one win away from becoming the first team to win back-to-back NBA titles since LeBron James accomplished the feat with the Miami Heat in 2012-13. All three titles in this four-year run will have come at the expense of James and the Cavaliers, and they have a second straight opportunity to sweep Cleveland, though James and his teammates sent the series back to Oakland last June with a 137-116 thrashing in Game 4.
James was once again sublime in defeat, totaling 33 points, 11 assists and ten rebounds as he set a single postseason-career high with his fourth triple-double. Unlike his 51-point virtuoso in Game 1 that put Cleveland in position to win, he got plenty of help as Kevin Love added 20 points and 13 rebounds while Rodney Hood chipped in 15 points off the bench in his first meaningful minutes of this series.
Yet the inspired 22-plus minutes of basketball they played in the first half in which they raced out and held a double-digit lead until Durant had two key buckets before halftime to cut it to six showed just how fine a line Cleveland have walked the entire series despite having the best player of their generation.
Love had only five points in the second half and J. R. Smith three while Golden State role players JaVale McGee and Shaun Livingston along with rookie Jordan Bell made vital contributions while Durant shined and both Curry and Thompson struggled.
Though James rallied the Cavaliers from deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 to win the 2016 NBA Finals and erased a 2-0 deficit to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, history is directly against him as no NBA team has ever overcome a 3-0 series deficit. James also is trying to avoid being swept in a series for just the second time in his career, with the other coming against the San Antonio Spurs in his first NBA Finals appearance in 2007.
Should Cleveland win and extend the series, it will shift back to Golden State for Game 5 on Monday night.