LeBron James admits he has not faced a team with as much firepower as the Golden State Warriors.
USA TODAY Sports
CLEVELAND – Poor Cleveland.
Suddenly, like in three minutes of NBA game time, there’s a fresh installment in that ongoing Cleveland saga of unforgettable big meltdowns when it mattered most.
The Cavaliers had the Golden State Warriors right where they needed them at raucous Quicken Loans Arena on Wednesday. Granted a six-point lead with just over three minutes to play against an explosive outfit like the Warriors isn’t much.
But the Cavs had it as a chance keep hope alive in the NBA Finals.
And they blew it. Or at least ran out of gas.
All of that hard work on an exhausting night for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, who barely came off the floor and scored 39 and 38 points, respectively, went down the drain with a 118-113 Warriors victory that pushed the defending NBA champs to the brink of elimination.
“Obviously, a dramatic situation,” James said, searching for words to explain it. “But it is what it is.”
Here’s what it was: The Cavs couldn’t finish while the Warriors – who struggled to find rhythm for much of mistake-filled night – showed them exactly how it’s done.
Kevin Durant added to his case to become Finals MVP by nailing the clutch, pull-up 3-point jumper that was the signature highlight moment of the night at The Q.
Faithful Clevelanders bemoan The Drive, The Fumble and The Shot. Now there’s The Three.
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Durant’s rainbow from the top of the key, over the outstretched arm of LBJ, put the Warriors up, 114-113 with :45 on the clock. The Cavaliers never scored again. Now they’re down 3-zip in this series, with the Warriors positioned to clinch the crown in Game 4 on Friday night.
It was so close to being a series again, which is why this one will be extremely painful for the Cavaliers, who hoped to repeat last year’s heroic effort of turning the series on its head in Game 3.
But now there are the what-ifs.
Just before Durant’s three, James opted not to drive to the basket and dished to Kyle Korver – who missed a wide-open three-point attempt from the corner. James nearly willed his team to what might have been a legendary performance but inexplicably gave the ball up rather than steamroll through the paint while guarded by Draymond Green, who was one mishap away from fouling out.
Not long after Durant’s three, Irving – who hit the clutch shot in crunch time of Game 7 at Oakland last year — missed a pull-up three-point shot of his own.
What a tough way for the Cavs to go down, after getting blown out in the first two games of the series. That they came up empty on two crucial possessions in crunch time with the basketball in the hands of their best two players was seemingly forecast by Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
As the game wore on, Kerr told his players during timeouts that James and Irving would not keep up their pace. It was pep-talk juice, backed by the numbers. James played a game-high 45 minutes, 37 seconds. Irving had the next-most time logged at 44 minutes, 23 seconds.
In the second half, Irving played all 24 minutes while James had 34 seconds of rest.
Their bodies, as magnificent as they are, can hold up for just so long.
So Kerr predicted: “They’re going to get tired. Fatigue will play a role.”
James scoffed at that explanation when Kerr’s comments were relayed.
“I don’t attribute us losing the game to being tired,” he said.
Maybe not. But the toll had to be taxing on James and Irving, who scored all but 36 of the Cavaliers’ points. It was also striking to see the Warriors stars – Durant and Stephen Curry – sitting side by side during an extended rest period in the second half.
Durant (31 points) and Curry (26) were surely fresher at the end. And it showed.
“I gave everything I had,” James said. “Win, lose or draw, you live with the results.”
And for the Cleveland faithful, it’s a matter of living with another round of heartbreak.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.