CLEVELAND – LeBron James walked out of Quicken Loans Arena, slight limps and laughs leading to his exit to the buses. He delivered his hometown franchise a championship in 2016, delivered on his mandate as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ savior, and this NBA Finals series had promise as another legacy moment. Seven straight trips here, and this run could turn into the most demoralizing of them all.
James and the Cavaliers have fallen to a 3-0 series deficit to the Golden State Warriors in this Finals Trilogy. He scored 39 points, with 11 rebounds and nine assists, and received a brilliant performance from Kyrie Irving in the Cavaliers’ loss in Game 3 on Wednesday night. Yet these Warriors have driven James to defeat over and over and over, driven him to the edge of his own stability.
“I’m drained right now, both mentally and physically,” James said.
For now, James’ trips to the NBA Finals will occur in the East. He’s gradually moved parts of his business practices to the West, in Los Angeles, but there’s no incentive of leaving a ready-made trip to the championship round. James has a co-star whom he has continued to trust, continued to groom, but a roster that needs youth could have adjustments in the offseason. For James, the push toward consecutive Finals runs here remains the priority.
The Warriors have become so powerful, so fast, and Kevin Durant changed every dynamic of this matchup. He’s the answer to LeBron, the creator of offense in any moment for Golden State. He’s been the best player on the floor in the most critical times, and the leader for Finals MVP so far. On Thursday, here was Durant stepping into a 3-pointer, down 113-111, and draining it in front of the Cavaliers’ bench for the go-ahead lead. Golden State scored 11 consecutive points to end Game 3, and left the Cavaliers with the cold reality: No one has come back from 3-0, and they too will succumb to the inevitable.
For now, James has no reason to move his game out West, out to the Warriors’ territory and eliminate meeting them in the final round. Throughout the postseason, Irving has repeatedly used the term “while it lasts” in regard to the Cavaliers, and both he and James have slowly but surely realized the Warriors are not to be threatened right now. For as rugged as those old San Antonio Spurs played James, for as disappointing as the Dallas Mavericks’ series was for him in 2011, these Warriors are pushing toward dynastic levels. Their weaponry is unmatched, and James saw this coming.
“It’s the most firepower I’ve played in my career,” James said late Wednesday. “I’ve played against some great teams, but I don’t think no team has had this type of firepower.
“You got to play A-plus-plus.”
One year after the Warriors witnessed “The Shot” from Irving, Durant delivered the 3-pointer for the 3-0 series lead and Andre Iguodala blocked James’ 3-point attempt to tie the game from the right corner, sealing the victory. The Shot and The Block, Golden State edition.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr has coached this team to the brink of two titles in three years, and his message to the locker room at halftime consisted of continuing to pressure James and Irving. Sooner than later, Kerr told his players, fatigue will take place.
“We just kept telling the guys, they’re going to get tired,” Kerr said.
This has separated the Warriors from the Cavaliers, from the rest of the league. Their waves of production go on and on. Klay Thompson added 30 points and six 3-pointers, and Curry had 26 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. Draymond Green dealt with foul trouble, but impacted the stat sheet. The final member of the Core 5, Iguodala, had his usual line: seven points, five rebounds, five assists, four steals and that crucial block.
“It’s first to four, but obviously we know what we’re up against,” Cavaliers guard Kyle Korver said.
A 3-0 series deficit, and now James returns home to treatment to prepare for Game 4. The pursuit of another championship here will continue, but for how long? How much longer are these Cavaliers and the remainder of the league looking so far up to the Warriors?
Golden State has worn out James mentally and competed with him physically like no one ever has. James has been the face of the NBA, and he appears to be yet another player who is a blip on the Warriors’ radar this season. He’s had one of his best postseasons ever, had a Finals for the ages, and it won’t matter. The Warriors are a different team, James warned on the eve of these Finals. A team with the talent that LeBron has not witnessed before; one that will soon leave James and the Cavaliers reevaluating everything.
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