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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.

Cousins posts historic triple-double in double overtime win

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Cousins posts historic triple-double in double overtime win

NEW ORLEANS — DeMarcus Cousins had 44 points, 24 rebounds and 10 assists, Anthony Davis scored 34 points, and the All-Star pair led a 17-point New Orleans comeback in the final five minutes of regulation before the Pelicans pulled out a 132-128 victory over the Chicago Bulls in double overtime Monday night.

Cousins scored seven points in the second overtime on a 3-pointer, a turnaround jumper and two free throws with 8.2 seconds left. He became the first NBA player since Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1972 to have as many as 40 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in a game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

E'Twaun Moore scored 15 points, including a 3 in the second overtime to help the Pelicans win for the fifth time in six games.

Jerian Grant had 22 points and 13 assists, and Robin Lopez also scored 22 for the Bulls, who appeared well on their way to their fifth victory in six games when they opened the fourth quarter with a 23-5 run to take their largest lead at 104-86.

Chicago still led by 17 when Bobby Portis hit a pair of free throws with 5:06 left in the fourth quarter. But Cousins and Davis led New Orleans back with a stunning 21-2 run. Jrue Holiday tied it at 110 on a 3 with 46 seconds left, and Davis briefly gave New Orleans the lead with an alley-oop dunk of Holiday's lob (see full recap).

Murray's 38 points lead Nuggets over Trail Blazers
DENVER — Jamal Murray scored a career-high 38 points, including a three-point play in the final minute, and the Denver Nuggets beat the Portland Trail Blazers 104-101 on Monday night.

Nikola Jokic had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Will Barton hit four free throws in the final 10 seconds to secure the win and spoil Jusuf Nurkic's return to Denver.

Nurkic had 19 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in his first game back at Pepsi Center. Damian Lillard had 25 points and seven assists for Portland.

Nurkic played two-plus seasons with the Nuggets to begin his career, and was playing his first game in Denver since he was dealt to Portland last season. He received a smattering of boos when he was introduced as a starter and a few during the game (see full recap).

Bucks beat Suns hours after firing Kidd
MILWAUKEE — Khris Middleton spent three-plus years under Jason Kidd's tutelage, blossoming into a dangerous scorer with the Milwaukee Bucks.

He showed off what he learned in the Bucks' first game without Kidd.

Middleton scored 35 points, Malcolm Brogdon added a career-high 32 and Milwaukee beat the Phoenix Suns 109-105 on Monday night hours after firing Kidd.

"It's tough for me," Middleton said. "He took my game to another level. He took this team to a whole other level. Today was a tough day."

Assistant Joe Prunty was promoted to replace Kidd for the rest of the year. After a slow start, the Bucks heeded the new coach's call to focus (see full recap).

Rockets come back to top Heat
HOUSTON — Chris Paul wasn't thrilled with how the Houston Rockets played Monday night.

The veteran was perfectly happy with the outcome though.

James Harden scored 28 points and the Rockets overcame a big early deficit to beat the Miami Heat 99-90.

"You have those games during the season where (you) win the game and move on ... out of 82 of them sometimes it's going to be ugly, but you just want to win," Paul said.

Miami led by double digits before halftime, but the game stayed close throughout most of the second half. It was tied with about three minutes left when Harden hit a 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired. That was the start of a 7-2 run that made it 95-90 with 38 seconds left (see full recap).

Sixers' loss falls on Brown? No, his stars went missing

Sixers' loss falls on Brown? No, his stars went missing

BOX SCORE

For a team that almost won its eighth game in nine tries Monday night, the flaws on this Sixers squad are obvious.

They blow big leads.

They turn the ball over too much.

They don’t have a dependable perimeter scorer late in the game.

And they’re reliant on their stars to cover up those problems. While Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot’s season-high 20 points (see highlights) and Dario Saric’s 22 almost saved the team Monday, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have to show up if the Sixers want to win night in and night out, and they didn’t in an ugly 105-101 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies (see observations).

“Our stars weren’t stars tonight, and our wings were below average," Brett Brown told reporters. "I think [Luwawu-Cabarrot] played well. I think in general the story should be the turnovers. You can’t win any NBA game that matters, and you certainly can’t even consider the playoffs, if this ends up just part of who we are.”

The Sixers, who led the NBA with 18.1 turnovers per game entering Monday’s contest, had 24 turnovers compared to just 12 for the Grizzlies. Ten of those turnovers came in the fourth quarter.

Twenty-four turnovers, and 39 points off those turnovers, are obviously unacceptable statistics. But Brown knows a young team that plays fast like the Sixers will have plenty of games with turnover totals in the high-teens. The Sixers can win those games, but only if their stars play like stars.

Simmons had only eight field goal attempts against the Grizzlies, and didn’t take a free throw for the second straight game. He had just six points along with seven assists and four turnovers.

Embiid scored 15 points, going 5 for 13 from the field and 5 for 9 from the line. While the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week pulled down 14 rebounds, he wasn’t himself.

“This wasn’t one of Jo’s games,” Brown said. “For whatever reason, from the start to the end, this just wasn’t one of his games. It was clear there wasn’t much going on tonight. When you see him miss the type of free throws that he missed, you know something’s going on. He’s had a great season, he’s a Player of the Week, and sometimes those games happen.”

Like Brown, Simmons was frustrated with the loss, and he agreed with his coach’s sentiment that “the stars weren’t stars.”

“Yeah, we weren’t,” Simmons said. “We sucked. We didn’t make big plays down the stretch, didn’t take care of the ball. Defensively, we weren’t too bad, but yeah, he’s right.”

Coaching this Sixers team is not an easy job. It may look easy when Embiid is playing like the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon and Simmons is making freakish play after freakish play, but Brown must feel helpless as he watches his young team gift the opposition free points while its big lead vanishes. When the Sixers win, it’s been pretty, but many of the losses have followed the same ugly pattern.

Brown can stress how important it is to take care of the ball, call timeouts to try to stop the opponent’s momentum and draw up plays to get his stars the ball in crunch time. He did all of those things Monday, and it wasn’t enough, because Embiid and Simmons had off nights on the same night. Many Sixers fans will want Brown to do more and will think this team should be beyond these sort of collapses. While that's a fair perspective, you can also understand Brown's exasperation.

“I thought that we had not much leadership,” Brown said. “I thought our poise was poor. I thought it was an immature loss. I think it’s a game where you look at the mistakes that were made and the opportunities that we blew, those types of words come to mind. It’s not something that we leave Memphis dusting off, thinking that there are 82 games and stuff like this happens — that’s not good enough. This is a game we should have won, we were in a position to win and we didn’t have the maturity to close it out.”