Cleveland did everything right for 44 minutes and 52 seconds. The team’s gameplan was working to perfection. LeBron James was doing all the stuff that makes you go “I am glad I am alive to watch him play basketball.” Kyrie Irving was throwing up H-O-R-S-E shots that went in despite the fact that he was hoisting them up from impossible angles. Kevin Love wasn’t scoring (he went 1-for-9 for nine points), but it didn’t matter, because he was rebounding (13 on the night) and forcing turnovers (six steals). Besides, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver combined to drop 24, so Love’s off night wasn’t a killer.
It didn’t matter. Nothing matters. Well, that’s a lie. The only thing that matters is that Golden State has assembled a team that no one can beat – at the very least, no team as currently assembled can beat them in a seven-game series.
Over the final three minutes and eight seconds of the game, Cleveland did not score. Golden State scored a lot. By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Warriors won, 118-113. Here’s the win probability chart.
There were two stretches that decided this game. The first was the aforementioned final 3:08. Golden State decided they were collectively done playing around and made it a point to suffocate the life out of everyone who wanted Cleveland to win. The ending was as cruel of an ending as you can have – Kevin Durant (who had yet another fantastic game in his quest to get a ring, dropping a team-high 31 points) took the ball up the court, saw LeBron was waiting for him at the three point line, and decided to just pull up and hit a trey in his rival’s eye.
At this point, it was over. Sure, there were 45 seconds left and it was a one-point game, but listen to that crowd. Everyone – from LeBron to Cleveland’s bench to everyone in the crowd – was shook. The rest of the game went like this:
- Irving missed a jumper, Curry got the rebound
- Golden State milked the clock because Cleveland took way too long to foul
- Durant hit two free throws
- LeBron got stripped while shooting a jumper, then stepped out of bounds after he got possession back
- Curry hit two free throws
- Some other ugliness
- The game ended
The Warriors’ run was not sudden. It did not come out of nowhere. They just decided they were winning the game, so they won the game and left a bunch of hearts broken across northeast Ohio.
The second moment happened way before that. It came at the end of the first quarter – Love came in for LeBron at the 1:49 mark. He was in there with Irving, Korver, Richard Jefferson, Iman Shumpert. With Love and Irving in, Cleveland was in a position to not completely crash and burn with LeBron on the bench, something that has been an issue this postseason.
Instead, in the short period of time LeBron rested, Golden State went on a 10-0 run to end the frame. Try to fathom this for a second.
The two minutes LeBron rested decided this game. We saw something similar happen in the Western Conference Quarterfinals between Oklahoma City and Houston, but this scoring outburst in this short period of time is unfathomable. It’s an indictment against Cleveland’s inability to make things work with LeBron out, absolutely, but it’s also a testament to the terrifying roster Golden State put together.
(By the way, the Warriors’ group during this run? Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala were out there the whole time. Durant and Klay Thompson came in a little more than halfway through for Patrick McCaw and Shaun Livingston. By this point the Dubs had already scored eight of the run’s 10 points, but Golden State still death lineup’d Cleveland for the final 37 seconds.)
So now we wait for what sure as hell feels like a coronation. It would require the Warriors to lost four games in a row, which probably isn’t going to happen, because they are better than the Cavaliers. The brilliance of LeBron cannot be relied upon, because Wednesday reaffirmed what we already knew – Cleveland having a great game isn’t enough. For the first two games, Irving wasn’t playing up to par. On Wednesday, Love struggled to get going.
Cleveland needs all three of its players to go off, all of its role players to do exactly what they are paid to do perfectly, and to hope Golden State isn’t able to hang around and be in a position to go on a late-game run.
Oh, and we really should mention this: the Warriors are one win away from sweeping their way through the playoffs. No team has ever gone 16-0 in the postseason, but Golden State is one way away from doing this. If this happens, we’re going to look back on this team in 50 years and refer to them as the best playoff team ever.
The irony, of course, is they’re doing all of this one year after earning the title of the best regular season team ever. That team didn’t win a ring. It killed them so much that they went out and added Durant, perhaps the most ring-hungry basketball player on earth.
They’re one win away from having it all work out. There exists a universe where Cleveland is able to battle back and through sheer will and the fact that they have LeBron makes this a series. We do not live in that universe. Instead, we live in a universe where we’re one basketball game away from history. Based on how the series has gone so far, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where we don’t see that happen on Friday night.