The Warriors are now a win away from going 16-0 in this NBA postseason, from winning an NBA championship by sweeping four series in a row, which I believe would be the greatest single accomplishment in the history of professional team sports in this country. It means bigger than the Dolphins going 17-0 in 1972, bigger than Michael Jordan and the Bulls winning 72 regular-season games and then the title in 1996, bigger than the Yankees winning 114 games in the regular season in 1998 and then 11 more in the postseason to win the World Series. Bigger than all of them and all of that.
One win away from 16-0 now, as we wait to see if LeBron and the Cavaliers have anything left after what happened to them over the last three minutes and nine seconds of Game 3 on Wednesday night.
The Warriors are on the verge of making this kind of history, for themselves and for their sport, because of the beauty of sports, at least partly because sports brought LeBron James and a distinguished basketball warrior named Andre Iguodala back together for a blocked shot with 12 seconds left, right corner, Quicken Loans Arena.
Iguodala's block this time. Not the King's.
The whole world knows that a year ago, at the end of Game 7 in Oakland, LeBron came from the Bay Bridge to block Iguodala when he was on what looked to be a breakaway, for a basket that might have won the Warriors a second straight NBA title, after a season when they'd broken the Bulls' record and won 73 games. There have been other famous blocks in NBA history. Because of the circumstances and the occasion of Game 7, and the guy making the block, never one more famous than this.
Then Kyrie Irving made the three-pointer that really won the championship for him and LeBron and the Cavaliers and Cleveland.
Now, almost a year later, comes a moment in a Game 3 that felt a little bit like a Game 7 for the Cavs. It is Kevin Durant who had just made the thre-pointer that changed the night for the Warriors. The Warriors had been down 113-107 when J.R. Smith made a 3-pointer with 3:09 left. But, a couple of minutes later, Durant came up the court with his team down two and LeBron backed off just enough, gave Durant just enough space to make a three-pointer that looked as effortless as a layup.
Now the Warriors were ahead by a point. Would still be ahead 116-113 when the Cavs still had a chance to tie. The ball went to LeBron in the right corner. Iguodala was on him after Kevin Love threw LeBron an inbounds pass. Iguodala was the one on defense this time. Catch and shoot. Make one more hero shot. Only he never really shot. It was really more of a strip than a block for Iguodala. It will go down in basketball history as a block. LeBron got him last June. Now Iguodala had gotten LeBron.
The Warriors were still up three points in Game 3. About to go up 3-0 in the NBA Finals, in what we thought was going to be Ali-Frazier III, but has started to look, in all ways, like a fourth-round knockout.
This is what Iguodala said about the play after the game ended, the Warriors having set themselves up to end the series, in Cleveland, on Friday night:
"It was just perfect timing at the right moment," Iguodala said. "I made a play for the team."
And he said this:
"It's kind of a situation where if you don't get the ball and you get a foul, I'm the worst player in the series, so it took a little from Kevin Durant. I tried to have some guts and make a play for the team."
There is no way of knowing if LeBron would have made that shot if he got it airborne. We will never know if the Warriors would have gone on to win the championship if Iguodala had made his shot in Game 7 last year, when the Warriors were in the same kind of late-game freefall the Cavs were in late Wednesday night in Cleveland. Exactly the same kind of freefall, as a matter of fact. The Warriors went the last three minutes of Game 7, the last three minutes of their season, without scoring. The Cavs went the last three minutes and change in Game 3 without a bucket.
There was still that chance for LeBron to tie the game and perhaps send it into overtime, to save the night, make right everything that had been happening to them, at both ends of the court, since J.R. had made it 113-107. Love missed after that. Iriving missed. LeBron missed a 12-footer. Kyle Korver who had been brought to Cleveland to make 3-pointers, missed one.
Then Durant, playing the first three games of this series the way LeBron played the last three a year ago, knocked down his three. Irving missed again. LeBron had the ball and one last chance to get to 42 points for the game (he had 41 in both Games 5 and 6 a year ago), on a night when he also had 11 rebounds and nine assists; on a night when he had to feel as if he were playing for his season.
Then LeBron and Iguodala were together again in the NBA Finals. Wasn't destiny that had brought them together. Just this one game, and everything that had been happening, fast and furious, after the Cavs had gone ahead by six points and seemed to have set themselves up to make the series 2-1 going into Friday night.
They did not. LeBron not only didn't take the shot, it's hard to even call it a shot when you look at the replay. Iguodala got him this time. Now the Warriors have their chance to make it 16-0 in the playoffs, which, again, in the modern world will feel much bigger than 17-0 for the Dolphins, with all possible due respect to them.
We can talk about how the Spurs were wounded by the time the Warriors played them in the Western Conference finals. We can talk about how the sides really haven't looked even between the Warriors from the time the Warriors signed Durant. Golden State and Cleveland have now played five games this season, including the regular season. The only time the Cavaliers beat them was on Christmas Day in Cleveland, when Durant was the one who couldn't get a shot up in the final seconds. Four of the other Golden State victories have been beatdowns. Game 3 of the NBA Finals felt like one because of the way it ended, the fast-furious run of 11 points after J.R.'s three.
"We made enough plays tonight to still win the ballgame, but they made a couple more," LeBron said when it was over.
We will find out in Game 4 on Friday night if the series really ended at the end of Game 3. We will find out if LeBron and Irving and the Cavs can rouse themselves and at least send the thing back to Oakland. But one year after the way Game 7 ended, it was the Warriors who made a couple more plays. Iguodala made one of them. Wasn't destiny. Just sports.