After a Game 1 loss, Cleveland kept pace with Golden State for a little more than half of Game 2. LeBron was masterful, putting up a triple double with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists. Kevin Love had 27 points. The Warriors turned the ball over 20 times and missed 25 three-pointers. And it didn't matter. Golden State scored 132 points and won by 19.
Before Game 3, Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue was asked about his insistence on continuing to play at a fast pace against Golden State, a recipe for disaster considering the Warriors' ability to score in transition. "We want to play fast, [but] we don't want to play in a hurry," Lue explained. "We want to get good shots. We don't want to take the long threes and things like that. But when we're playing aggressive, we're in attack mode, playing with pace -- that's when we're at our best."
On Wednesday in Cleveland, the Cavs were at their very best. Kyrie Irving attacked the rim all night, making one ridiculous finish after another, finishing with 38 points. LeBron was incredible once again. He played 46 minutes, shot 15-for-27 from the field, scored 39 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and nine assists. J.R. Smith hit five three-pointers. Kevin Love had 13 rebounds and six steals. The Cavs played an incredible game, but even after a 33-point third quarter, they only led by five points.
"We just kept telling our guys, they're going to get tired," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
LeBron and Irving were laboring heading into the fourth, and even with their individual brilliance, the margin of error against this Warriors team is so thin, that over 48 minutes, it seems impossible to keep up with them. It proved to be true again in the fourth quarter of Game 3. With the Cavs leading in the final minutes, the Warriors turned it on.
Golden State held the Cavs scoreless in the final three minutes of the game. The Warriors went on an 11-0 run to close the game. Trailing by two in the final minute, Kevin Durant -- the star player in a series where all of the Warriors stars have played up to their billing -- grabbed a defensive rebound, dribbled up court, pulled up in front of LeBron in transition and hit a three to put the Warriors ahead for good.
With a 118-113 victory, Golden State is now one win away from sweeping away the Cavs and finishing the playoffs with a perfect 16-0 record. Here's the margin of error for Cleveland in this series: LeBron was on the floor for 45 minutes and 37 seconds and the Cavs were a +7 with their best player on the floor. The two minutes and 23 seconds in which he sat? The Warriors outscored the Cavs by 12. In an alternate reality, we would be talking about this Cleveland team as a juggernaut, the class of the league. But against the Warriors, it has had to exert every bit of energy just to give itself a chance. The Cavs have played two great games in three tries, and have come up short each time.
"It's probably the most firepower I've played [against] in my career," LeBron said. "I played against some great teams, but I don't think no team has had this type of firepower. So even when you're playing well, you got to play like A-plus-plus, because they're going to make runs and they're going to make shots and they got guys that's going to make plays. So we made enough plays tonight to still win the ball game, but they made a couple more."
A couple more here, a couple more there, and that's all the Warriors have needed in this series. They've withstood every one of Cleveland's runs, and responded with their own. On Wednesday it was Klay Thompson with 30 points and six threes. It was Stephen Curry with 26 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. It was Durant -- who is on his way to his first championship and the prohibitive favorite to win the Finals MVP -- with 31 points and the deciding shot in the fourth.
"He knows this is his moment," Kerr said of Durant afterwards. "He's been an amazing player in this league for a long time. He senses this is his time, his moment, his team."
The Warriors have been lackadaisical in Game 3s in the Finals the previous two seasons, losing both times in Cleveland. They reminded themselves of that heading into Wednesday's game. They're well aware of how last year's Game 3 loss allowed the Cavaliers to get back into the series and eventually pull off a comeback from a 3-1 deficit. Golden State's past failures made this victory even more rewarding. "It's a huge sign of maturity and it's an even bigger sign of resiliency," Draymond Green said.
And now, the Warriors have just one order of business left: becoming the first team in NBA history to finish the postseason with an undefeated record. Has that been a goal for this Golden State team, who won 73 games last season but didn't win a championship? "It is now because we took care of [business] tonight," Curry said. "It's not in terms of 16-0 and what that means historically, it's just that's what's in front of us. We obviously know how hard it is to win a championship, what all goes into it and how important each game is. And now that you can look ahead to Friday, all our focus is on that. And just we obviously -- we want 16 wins; it doesn't matter how we get there."
The Warriors are one win away, and they've turned the entire postseason into a formality, a coronation of their dominance all season. And they've made it look plenty easy getting there.