SAN ANTONIO — Five takeaways from the Golden State Warriors’ 120-108 win over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. The Warriors lead the series 3-0 and can complete the sweep in Game 4 in San Antonio on Monday.
Warriors hero: The six-degrees-of-Cleveland component is front and center now, with the Warriors’ work in earning a third consecutive matchup with the Cavaliers almost complete. But Kevin Durant is the new character in this rivalry tale, the difference maker who showed yet again in Game 3 why these Warriors will be so much tougher to take down this time around.
Right about the time the Warriors needed a boost, with the Spurs showing some fight and cutting the lead to four early in the third quarter, Durant took over. Nineteen of his 33 points came in a 10-minute stretch during the third quarter, with Durant hitting five of six shots and getting to the free-throw line eight times in all (with seven makes).
“The run he had in the third was a clinic of scoring the basketball,” said Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, a fellow expert in the field of offensive expertise. “He got in the paint, finished at the rim, hit a tough fadeaway, a one-footer, was in pick-and-roll situations a lot being able to play-make and create his own shot.
“He really answered the bell in that moment for us. At that point, it’s just like anybody who gets the hot hand — just give them the ball and get out the way and let him do what he does. His versatility demands a lot of attention. It is fun to watch him get hot like that from the three-point line all the way to the basket, and you just never know how he’s going to do it.”
As was the case in the regular season, Durant has picked his spots to take over in the playoffs. But as the numbers show, he clearly has a comfort level with this group when it comes to scoring.
Regular season: 25.1 points per game on an average of 16.5 attempts (53.7% shooting overall, 37.5% from three-point range, 87.5% from the line).
Playoffs (11 games in all): 24.8 points per game on 16.1 attempts (53.7%, 40.9%, 85.5%).
“He got it going,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said of Durant. “That’s the luxury of having so many guys who can score the ball like that. One guy may not have it going, but another guy (does) and you can kind of ride that wave until it ends. And it pretty much lasted the entire quarter.”
Spurs goat: At least Gregg Popovich kept his LaMarcus Aldridge commentary short this time.
One game after the Spurs coach was highly critical of the forward who simply had to step up with franchise centerpiece Kawhi Leonard on the shelf with an ankle injury, Popovich was asked if Aldridge (18 points, five rebounds) had made amends in Game 3.
“Sure,” Popovich said before concluding his postgame news conference.
It wasn’t as ugly as his eight-point, four-rebound outing in Game 2, but it wasn’t pretty either. Aldridge missed 10 of 17 shots, struggled to exploit the Warriors’ double teams by finding the open man and was generally underwhelming at a time when he was needed most.
Cavs Watch continues: No matter what the Warriors might say, they’re watching the Cavs’ every move right now as this game of everything-you-can-do-we-can-do-better continues. And say what you will about these playoffs being boring, but the payoff for all this dominance might be a Finals clash the likes of which we’ve never seen. At last tally, the Warriors have won all 11 of their playoff games by an average of 16.5 points, while the Cavs have won all 10 of theirs by an average of 13.4.
“I mean, we know what the situation is (in relation to the Cavs), but a good team focuses on what’s in front of you,” Curry said. “It doesn’t matter, really, what they’re doing until we close this thing out. So I’m obviously watching (Game 3 on Sunday) — I’m a fan of basketball. You understand what goes on in that series, but it doesn’t matter until we get this fourth win. It’s a cliché answer, but it’s the truth.”
Forgot about Klay: Only on this kind of super team could a two-time All-Star struggle like Klay Thompson and have the record remain unblemished.
Anyone who appreciates good defense hasn’t lost track of Thompson’s efforts this postseason, but the sixth-year shooting guard hasn’t been himself on the offensive end. In all, his scoring has dipped from 22.3 points per game in the regular season to 14.8 in the playoffs (on just 39.6% shooting overall and 37.7% from beyond the arc). His 17-point outing in Game 3 wasn’t half bad by his recent standards, as he hit seven of 15 shots overall and was 3-for-6 from three-point range.
Yet as Green detailed afterward, Thompson’s value remains even when he’s not scoring like the guy who put up 60 points in three quarters against the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 5.
“I think it’s coming,” Green said of a big game for Thompson. “One thing we’re not going to do is we’re not going to force it. … Klay has been great for us. He’s been locking up on the defensive end. And at the end of the day, he still brings (spacing) to the floor. You can’t help off of him, or we’re going to hit him and he’s going to knock them down. The spacing that he allows everybody else to play with, him just being out there is huge. It doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet.”
“I always feel like I’m close (to a big game),” Thompson said. “Most importantly, we are 11-0, trying to make it 16-0. It is going to be very difficult, but we are on the way and we just have got to stay patient and not really worry about statistics. I almost averaged 25 points a game last year in the postseason, and look what it did for us. We lost. I don’t care about that. And if we win the championship, that is all that matters.”
#3-1 lead: You’d think the Warriors wouldn’t want to talk about last year’s Finals collapse ever again. But every so often, when a reporter assumes too much about the direction they’re going and the idea that they’ve become virtually unbeatable, they’re the first ones to bring up the 3-1 lead they blew against Cleveland a year ago.
When asked if it seemed inevitable that it would be Cavs-Warriors again in the Finals, Green wasn’t about to go there.
“Nah, it’s not inevitable,” he said. “We lost a lead before, so we’ve got to come out Monday and try to close this thing up.”
Follow Sam Amick on Twitter @sam_amick.