The Cleveland Cavaliers knew going into Game 3 of the 2018 NBA Finals that a win was absolutely necessary. Forget about them winning the series if the Cavs went down 0-3–it would be an absolute struggle not to get swept. That knowledge did not end up being enough thanks to one Kevin Durant.
Cleveland’s desperation was apparent in the game’s opening minutes. The Cavaliers started the game on a 16-4 run that saw multiple players get involved on offense, as all five Cleveland starters scored by the end of the first quarter.
Their 12-point lead was the largest for Cleveland in the entire Finals, and it happened less than five minutes into Game 3. Cleveland got an extra boost when Stephen Curry picked up two fouls in the first half of the first quarter.
The Warriors are the Warriors though, and thanks to a perfect start from Durant tied up the score with less than a minute left in the first quarter. Durant put up 12 points in the first 12 minutes, and also somehow grabbed 100 percent of Golden State’s rebounds with seven in the opening period.
Cleveland refused to give in to the Warriors run to end the first, though, and came out strong in the second quarter. Rodney Hood, in his first extended run of the series, looked pretty decent early and improved from there. He ended the night with 15 points, and did much of the scoring for Cleveland during a particularly inspired fourth quarter stretch.
While Kevin Durant started off red-hot, Curry was chilly all night. Steph missed 13 of his first 14 field goal attempts, and did not make a 3 until there was just under three minutes left in the game.
A missed layup by James with about seven and a half minutes left looked worrisome, as LeBron hobbled under the basket with what looked like a twisted ankle. In typical LeBron fashion, he somehow walked it off and kept going, and Cleveland continued its hot start up to halftime.
Kevin Love was a huge key to the Cavaliers’ early success. Love posted 15 points and 10 boards in the first half on his way to a 20-point, 13-rebound night. Still, Cleveland could not pull away. Durant matched his first quarter scoring in the second period, with 24 points to go along with eight rebounds and two assists at halftime. The Cavs led, but they only led by six points, 58-52.
That lead would not last long into the third quarter, as Durant and the Warriors went on a typical third quarter run and tied up the score in less than two minutes. Such is the challenge of playing Golden State. A team can play some of their best basketball and build an advantage, but no lead ever feels safe against Curry, Durant, and company.
Company, in this case, included JaVale McGee. The second player after Durant to reach double figures, McGee was effective on both ends and ended the night with 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field. Kevon Looney is probably done outside of garbage time for the rest of this series, especially if McGee stays this effective.
Despite Durant continuing to erupt throughout the third quarter the Cavaliers managed to avoid giving Golden State a huge lead. The Warriors led, 83-81, entering the fourth quarter. Rodney Hood, of all people, was one of the biggest reasons Cleveland took the lead back and kept battling in the fourth.
Battle they did, but it was all for naught thanks to Durant. A deep, deep three from KD with less than 50 seconds left in the game put Golden State up six, and completely deflated the crowd in Quicken Loans Arena.
Durant ended the evening with 43 points, a playoff career high for him, in addition to 13 rebounds, seven assists, and a steal. This was Durant’s best playoff game ever, and it put his Warriors a game from their third title in four years after the 110-102 Golden State win.