CLEVELAND -- In a little more than a minute, in game that does not clinch a series, Kevin Durant locked up what surely should be the most coveted individual award in the NBA.
That would be, of course, the Bill Russell Award that goes to the MVP of The Finals, to the player who was great in the most games of the most important series.
For when things looked bleakest Wednesday night, in a building holding 20,562 people screaming for his failure, Durant dived into the moment, pushing the Warriors to a 118-113 victory in Game 3 that gives them an imposing 3-0 series lead over the Cavaliers.
One more victory, and the Warriors will have their second championship in three seasons.
If that win comes Friday night in Game 4, they will become the first squad in major American team sports to sweep four games in four consecutive series to finish 16-0.
Durant, with 14 fourth-quarter points, is primarily responsible for putting them in this position.
“He was their closer tonight, for sure,” Cavs guard Kyrie Irving conceded after a game the needed to win to give this series at least semblance of legit competition.
“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.
“When I say his team, I mean it's not literally just his team, it's that we’ve got a group around him that can help him and create space for him with the shooting and the playmaking, and I think he's having the time of his life out there.”
Stephen Curry was fabulous, with 26 points, a team-best 13 rebounds and six assists. Klay Thompson was remarkable, with 30 points and six rebounds. Andre Iguodala was impactful off the bench, producing 7 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals.
But at a time when the Warriors needed someone to carry them home, Durant did.
With the Warriors trailing 113-109, with 1:24 remaining, Durant came out of a timeout and drained a jumper over Cavs center Tristan Thompson that put the score at 113-111 with 1:15 to play, forcing a Cleveland timeout.
“We know in that situation to get that man the rock,” Thompson said. “He's 7-foot, can shoot over almost anybody and has amazing shooting touch, and he made a dagger 3. Well, not a dagger, but a huge 3 there. And we're confident in him taking that shot every time.”
The Cavs tried to answer, but Kyle Korver’s 3-point attempt missed, the rebound going to none other than Durant, who went sprinting into the frontcourt, firing a 3-pointer over LeBron James that bottomed, giving the Warriors their first lead since late in the third quarter.
And, moreover, silencing Quicken Loans Arena.
“He lives for those moments,” Andre Iguodala said of Durant.
“We know if we get off the board and push, we're a dangerous team,” Durant said. “And I (saw James) backing up, and I just wanted to take that shot.”
An Irving miss led to another Warriors possession that ended with a pair of Durant free throws, for a 116-113 lead with 12.9 seconds remaining.
Scoring 7 points in roughly 62 seconds, Durant extinguished any reasonable hope of a Cavaliers comeback in Game 3, and practically putting them on ice for the summer.
“Came down to the stretch, and they made some big time plays,” Irving said. “KD comes down, hits a big 3, puts them up one, iso on the wing. I'll probably be replaying that play for a while.”
Durant through three games is averaging 34 points (on 56.1-percent shooting), 10 rebounds and two blocks. He’s coming for LeBron, coming for the first championship of a 10-year NBA career.
Another solid performance in a Warrior victory, and Durant will have that, along with trophy that ought to be cherished above all others and in his case would have to serve as the last word to his critics.