CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers got everything they wanted. They were home. They had the fast pace. They had the physical game. They had the Warriors again treating the basketball as if it were nuclear waste. They got support for the planet’s greatest player, LeBron James, and from Kyrie Irving, who arose with an electrifying 38-point display.
They got everything they wanted — well, almost.
Even with all that, they still didn’t get a win.
Behind Irving, who grabbed the game by the throat in the third quarter, and James, who was his human-tornado self, the Cavaliers, fueled by desperation and pride, held a six-point lead when J.R. Smith nailed a 3-pointer with 3:09 left.
Ladies and gentlemen, drive home safely.
But those were Cleveland’s last points. The Warriors scored the game’s final 11 points, seven of them by Kevin Durant, and stayed perfect in the playoffs with their 15th straight win, an improbable 118-113 victory that brought them a commanding 3-0 lead in the Finals.
Golden State can end matters here Friday. And no team ever has crawled out of a 3-0 Finals hole.
“We just wanted to stay around and we did,” said Durant who finished with 31 points, his biggest three coming on a triple that beat a late James closeout with 45.3 seconds left to put the Warriors up 114-113. “All I was looking at was the bottom of the net.”
The Warriors got another trio of 20-point-plus efforts from Durant, Klay Thompson (31), and Stephen Curry (26).
But as they did in Game 2, the Warriors proved bitter enemies to themselves, committing 18 turnovers. But even with that, plus 39 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists from James and Irving’s brilliance, the Cavaliers were moved to the brink.
When Smith (16 points) nailed his 3, the joint exploded. But the Cavaliers, who got a terrific blue-collar effort from Kevin Love (nine points, 13 rebounds, six steals) before he exited limping with 1:24 left, were shut out the rest of the way.
The third quarter had been the stuff of nightmares for Cleveland. In the first two games, the Warriors outscored them by 24 points in the third quarter.
This time, Irving helped the Cavaliers get 11 of those back, scoring 16 of his points in an often electrifying display in the third as Cleveland raced to a 94-89 lead entering the fourth.
Irving, who had been putting up points but doing little else, gave the Cavaliers a huge lift. Again, Cleveland was fighting uphill, trailing by as many as eight early in the third quarter. But Cleveland continued pushing the pace to friction-burn levels, and when Irving sliced to the basket at 9:31 of the third quarter, the Cavs were within one, 69-68. And the Warriors, who saw Draymond Green pick up his fourth foul at 9:37, retreated to a timeout.
The first half ended with a jaw dropper. Irving accepted an inbound pass, spun around Shaun Livingston and raced into the Cleveland end.
He gave another move to get past Thompson and then flipped in an off-balance layup at the buzzer. The crowd went into a frenzy.
After all, the Cavaliers were within six.
As promised, the Cavaliers came out and did what they did in Game 2. They played fast. They played physical.
And they ended up trailing the Warriors early.
They didn’t want to play from behind, but that was what they did a lot before halftime following a blistering start. And that was what the Warriors expected.
Mostly, it was James who was a total terror. By halftime, he had 27 points, missing only three of 14 shots. He bagged three 3s, drove in his unstoppable freight train fashion. He was a monster.
And still the Warriors led, 67-61 at the break. Golden State, primarily with a 21-point detonation by Thompson, withstood James and an emotional outburst from Green, who picked up a technical 2:07 before halftime arguing his third foul. And the Warriors, who had lost two Finals Game 3s here in 2015 and 2016, again found turnover issues with 12 by halftime.