By Tom Withers / The Associated Press
CLEVELAND—Kevin Durant drained the shot of his professional life—a three-pointer with 45.3 seconds left—and scored 31 points as the Golden State Warriors moved within one win of postseason perfection and payback by rallying to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 118-113, on Wednesday night to take a 3-0 lead in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals.
The Warriors trailed by six with three minutes left before Durant, who signed with Golden State last summer to win a championship, brought them back, scoring 14 in the fourth.
With their 15th straight win, the Warriors have the longest postseason streak for any team in the four major professional sports.
And with a victory in Game Four on Friday night, Golden State can exorcise those haunting demons from last June, when the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals to the Cavaliers. No team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit.
Klay Thompson added 30 points and Stephen Curry had 26 for the Warriors, who are one win from their second title in three years.
LeBron James shook off a knee-buckling blow to the chin while scoring 39 and Kyrie Irving added 38 for the Cavs, who took a 113-107 lead with 3:09 left on JR Smith’s three-pointer.
Curry hit a lay-up and after both James and Irving missed for the Cavs, Durant dropped his three—a shot that could be the one most remembered in this magnificent run by the Warriors.
“All I was looking at was the bottom of the net,” Durant said. “I’ve been working on that shot my whole life. To see that go in, that was liberating, man. We’ve got one more to go.”
After the Warriors went up, Irving missed a three from his favorite spot on the right side and the Warriors closed it out with four free throws in the final 12.9 seconds before celebrating briefly on the floor and then charging down the hallway to their locker room.
After winning Games One and Two by a combined 41 points at home, the Warriors had to scrap for all 48 minutes to take down the Cavs, who will need a similar effort to avoid being swept by a team with few weaknesses.
James and Irving were relentless in the second half and it appeared they had done enough to get Cleveland over the top and perhaps back in the series.
Durant, though, was not going to be denied. Not after getting this close, not after enduring so much criticism for leaving Oklahoma City and not with a chance to put the Cavaliers in an insurmountable hole.
The 7-footer finished 10 of 18 from the field with eight rebounds and four assists. Curry, who has benefited more than any other player by Durant’s arrival and is healthy in these Finals, added 13 rebounds and six assists.
With Coach Steve Kerr back on the bench for the second straight game after battling back pain, Golden State, which made a record nine three-pointers in the first quarter and finished 16 of 33 behind the arc, also got just what it needed from its reserves as Andre Iguodala had several big plays, none bigger than stripping James of the ball on a potential tying three-pointer with 12.6 seconds left.
Cleveland had collapsed in the third quarter of the first two games, letting the Warriors run away and hide.
Irving didn’t let that happen in Game Three.
Showing off his ability to spin in shots high off the backboard, Irving scored 16 in the third quarter and the Cavs held the Warriors to 22 points in their lowest scoring output in any quarter in this postseason.
The Cavaliers, though, couldn’t get far enough ahead in the fourth to get comfortable and the Warriors kept chipping into their lead before Durant’s defining three-pointer.
James was knocked flat in the first quarter, when he accidentally got blasted in the chin by teammate Tristan Thompson’s shoulder. James dropped to the floor and a hush fell over Cleveland’s crowd as the three-time champ laid in the foul lane like a boxer sprawled on the canvas after taking an upper cut. James shook it off, got up and slowly walked to the bench, and moments later drove for a lay-up.
Golden State landed the next blows, but the Cavs kept coming back.
Cleveland Coach Tyronn Lue decided not to change his starting lineup for Game Three, sticking with the slumping Smith at shooting guard. He also insisted that his team was better off playing at a high tempo than trying to slow down the Warriors.
“We want to play fast; we don’t want to play in a hurry,” Lue said. “We want to get good shots. We don’t want to take the long threes and things like that.”
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