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NBA Finals: Kevin Durant, Warriors storm back late for win to take 3-0 lead

NBA Finals: Kevin Durant, Warriors storm back late for win to take 3-0 lead

BOX SCORE

CLEVELAND -- Kevin Durant released his deep shot, the one he always makes in his dreams.

As the ball hung in the air, his plan to win a championship, Golden State's grip on the series, Cleveland's last-gasp attempt to defend its title, all of it was on the line.

Perfect.

Durant drained the shot of his professional life -- a 3-pointer over LeBron James with 45.3 seconds left -- and scored 31 points as the Warriors, pushed harder than they have been throughout their pristine postseason, moved within one win of a title and payback by rallying to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 118-113 on Wednesday night to take a 3-0 lead in the NBA Finals.

The Warriors trailed by six with three minutes left before Durant, criticized for leaving Oklahoma City last summer to chase a championship, brought them back, scoring 14 in the fourth.

"He took over," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "You can tell, he knows this is his moment. He's been an amazing player in this league for a long time, and he senses this is his time, his moment, his team."

With their 15th straight win, the Warriors now have the longest postseason streak for any team in the four major professional sports.

But that means little to Golden State's players, who with a victory in Game 4 on Friday night can exorcise those haunting demons from last June when the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals to the Cavaliers.

No team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit, and it doesn't appear any team is equipped to hang with these Warriors, who may go down as one of the best ever.

Still, Durant isn't looking too far ahead.

"I never been in this position before," said Durant, long accused of not being able to win the big game. "I don't want to relax. It's not over. This is a crazy game. Anything can happen. So I don't want to relax or feel like it's over, it's not."

Klay Thompson added 30 points and Stephen Curry had 26 for this California Dream Team now one win from its second title in three years.

If not for their meltdown last year, the Warriors, whose record-setting 73-win season got lost in the Finals aftermath, would be looking for a third straight crown.

"We talked about it since The Finals last year that the last season was a very unique year, for a lot of different reasons, and we learned a lot," Curry said. "I think we have grown and matured just mentally of how to just pace yourself through this long year and take every day as a new experience and something that you can kind of take control of."

James shook off a knee-buckling blow to the chin while scoring 39 and Kyrie Irving added 38 for the Cavs, who took a 113-107 lead with 3:09 left on J.R. Smith's 3-pointer.

Curry hit a layup and after both James and Irving missed for the Cavs, Durant dropped his 3 -- a shot that could be the one most remembered in this magnificent run by the Warriors.

"All I was looking at was the bottom of the net," Durant said. "I saw he (James) was playing his heels behind the 3-point line. I've been working on that shot my whole life. To see that go in, that was liberating, man. We've got one more to go."

After Golden State went up, Irving missed a 3 from his favorite spot on the right side and the Warriors closed it out with four free throws in the final 12.9 seconds before celebrating briefly on the floor and then charging down the hallway to their locker room.

After winning Games 1 and 2 by a combined 41 points at home, the Warriors had to scrap for all 48 minutes to take down the Cavs, who will need a similar effort to avoid being swept by a team with few -- if any -- weaknesses.

"It's the most firepower I've played in my career," said James, who played all but two minutes. "I've played against some great teams, but I don't think no team has had this type of firepower."

James and Irving were relentless in the second half and it appeared they had done enough to get Cleveland over the top and perhaps back in the series.

Durant, though, was not going to be denied. Not after getting this close, not after enduring so much heat for turning his back on the Thunder, not with a chance to put the Cavaliers in an insurmountable hole.

The 7-footer finished 10 of 18 from the field with eight rebounds and four assists. Curry, who has benefited more than any other player by Durant's arrival and is healthy in these NBA Finals, added 13 rebounds and six assists.

With Kerr back on the bench for the second straight game after battling back pain, Golden State, which made a record 9 3-pointers in the first quarter and finished 16 of 33 behind the arc, also got just what it needed from its reserves as Andre Iguodala had several big plays, none bigger than stripping James of the ball on a potential tying 3-pointer with 12.6 seconds left.

Cleveland had collapsed in the third quarter of the first two games, letting the Warriors run away and hide. Irving didn't let that happen, scoring 16 in the third and the Cavs held the Warriors to 22 points in their lowest scoring output in any quarter in this postseason.

The Cavs, though, couldn't get far enough ahead to get comfortable and the Warriors kept chipping away before Durant's defining 3 -- the shot that makes dreams come true.

Tip-ins
Warriors: Golden State is the 13th team to take a 3-0 lead in Finals, and third since 1996. ... Broke the record of 14 straight postseason wins held by the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, who did it twice. ... Curry has hit at least one 3-pointer in all 73 career postseason games. ... Golden State's nine 3-pointers in the first quarter broke the previous Finals mark held by five teams, most recently the Warriors in 2015.

Cavaliers: James (1,175) passed Sam Jones (1,143), Bill Russell (1,151) and Elgin Baylor (1,161) to move into fourth place on the NBA Finals scoring list. Michael Jordan (1,176) is next. ... James became the first player to appear in 20 or more Finals games with two franchises. He played in 23 for Miami. ... G Deron Williams has missed each of his 11 shots in the series.

Sixers-Warriors observations: 22-point halftime lead evaporates against defending champs

Sixers-Warriors observations: 22-point halftime lead evaporates against defending champs

BOX SCORE

The excitement of a monster first half and the letdown of a lackluster second.

The Sixers went through dramatic ups and downs Saturday night in a 124-116 loss to the Warriors that seemed like an upset early on but turned into a disappointment for them.

• The Sixers scored … ready for this? You sure? Forty-seven points in the first quarter. They led the defending champions by 21 during a quarter that prompted double takes at the scoreboard.

The Sixers put together enough noteworthy plays in the first 12 minutes for a highlight reel: one-handed dunks and three-pointers by Joel Embiid, slams by Ben Simmons and a steal followed by a trey by Robert Covington to name a few.

The team shot a monster 73.1 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from three, led by 4 for 4 from Covington in the first game since signing his contract extension.

• You didn’t expect the Warriors would be quiet out of halftime, did you? Veteran teams — championship-winning veteran teams — make adjustments. They outscored the Sixers, 47-15, in the third and took a 10-point lead heading into the fourth. Steph Curry netted 20 points in the quarter. The Sixers shot 1 for 7 from three during the third and did not hit a basket in the final 2:20 of the quarter.

• Where did the third shut down on the Sixers end? Simmons attempted just one field goal in the third (0 for 1) compared to eight attempts in the first half. JJ Redick (0 for 3 from the field) was scoreless, too. Adding to that, Embiid had two points and did not pull down a rebound in the quarter. (Saric had six.) 

• The problem with playing the Warriors is, give them an inch — in many cases, all they need is a deficit less than 20 points — and they will take advantage. Even though they looked completely out of the game in the first half, they have been there, done that and know how to flip the switch. 

• Twenty-plus point performances by Simmons (23 points, eight rebounds, 12 assists), Embiid (21 points, eight rebounds), Covington (20 points, six rebounds) and Redick (20 points) were not enough to overcome 35 points by Curry and 27 from Kevin Durant. 

• The Sixers and Warriors flip-flopped shooting halves: 59 percent by the Sixers compared to 47 percent by the Warriors in the first half. In the second, the Sixers shot just 38 percent while the Warriors knocked down 62 percent.

• Simmons did whatever he wanted early on.

There was this …

… and this

… to name a few.

• Injury update: Markelle Fultz (right shoulder), Justin Anderson (left leg), Nik Stauskas (right ankle), Jerryd Bayless (left wrist) and Jahlil Okafor (personal) were out for the Sixers. 

• In years past, the seats would have been occupied by those wearing Warriors jerseys for a must-see opponent in town. On Saturday, it was clear the fans came to the Wells Fargo Center to watch the home team. 

• The early matchup between Saric and Zaza Pachulia was intriguing to watch. They both bring international experience to the court and had been familiar with each other’s game before Saric got to Philadelphia: Saric following Pachulia in the NBA and Pachulia learning about Saric’s play in Turkey. Pachulia referred to the Sixers forward as a  “young, talented kid” and “smart” last season.

• Notes and Numbers: The Sixers tied the record for most points scored in a half (74) by either team at the Wells Fargo Center. … Redick netted career three-pointer No. 1,300. He currently ranks 15th among active players. … The Warriors improved to 4-0 in the next game following a loss. They were defeated by the Celtics on Thursday. … The Sixers have lost 10 straight against the Warriors. Their last win was on March 2, 2013. 

Stephen Curry saw potential in Markelle Fultz as one of his campers

Stephen Curry saw potential in Markelle Fultz as one of his campers

How quickly two years fly by. It was only then that Markelle Fultz attended Steph Curry’s basketball camp in the Bay Area. 

Fultz stood out to Curry, who recognized the teenager’s promising talent. In the time since that camp, Fultz became the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. 

“You knew right away what kind of potential he had in the league,” Curry said to NBC Sports Philadelphia Saturday at Golden State's shootaround. 

There will be no matchup between teacher and student this season, though. Fultz is out because of a right shoulder injury and will miss the Sixers’ two games against the Warriors, both of which are scheduled in November. 

When the Sixers played in Oakland last weekend, Curry wanted to make sure he still talked to the rookie. Get healthy. Don’t lose confidence. Ignore the outside noise, the two-time championship winner and MVP encouraged. 

“The hardest thing is dealing with people’s expectations and the hype around you,” Curry said. “I don’t even know what it’s like being a No. 1 pick and having to deal with that. That’s part of the learning curve too. Hopefully, he’ll be able to keep his confidence through all this.”

Fultz’s rookie year hasn’t started out smoothly. He suffered soreness and scapular muscle imbalance in his right shoulder early in the season. Fultz missed the majority of the preseason and played his first four games off the bench before he was ruled out indefinitely Oct. 29. At the time, the Sixers approximated a reevaluation three weeks from then, which is Sunday. Fultz was averaging 6.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 19.0 minutes prior to being sidelined. 

Curry, though, saw in Fultz what the Sixers saw when they traded up to acquire the No. 1 pick from the Celtics. The team’s vision was for Fultz to complement Ben Simmons off the ball. As a freshman at Washington, he averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists while leading the Pac-12 and all freshmen in scoring. 

“He’s just a great basketball player,” Curry said. “Obviously he’s quick. He’s athletic, he can shoot, he can play above the rim, he’s got the full package. I’m sure that’ll show as soon as he gets fully healthy and learns the ropes of the NBA.”

Curry can relate to Fultz. He is no stranger to battling injuries himself. Before Curry was dominating the NBA, he underwent ankle procedures and played only 26 games in his third season. He proved there can be a new chapter after being sidelined, one that’s better than the first. 

“Just be patient because this doesn’t define you,” Curry said. “It’s not the ideal way to start, but he’s going to be in good shape if he takes the necessary precautions to get fully 100 percent and understand he has a long career. He’s still young so this will be a distant memory very soon, the injury battle that really a lot of people have to go through, so he’s not alone.”

Curry has high expectations for Fultz in the NBA. He may have to wait another season to compete against him, but Curry will be looking forward to seeing how the 19-year-old develops and improves until then. 

"It’s kind of cool seeing guys that I got to see before they even got to college show out and do what they do and now get to play against them in the league," Curry said.