You all remember the final 4:59 of Game Seven last year, don’t you? It’s been eating at your eyes, ears, tongues and souls all summer, fall, winter and spring. The Golden State Warriors missed every shot they took for five consecutive minutes, lost the NBA championship and ripped the crown from their own heads, of their own accord, by their own hand.
Well, life’s a funny old bastard sometimes, and now you can remember the last 3:13 of Game Three this year – when the Warriors did to the Cleveland Cavaliers what the Cavs did to them (and what they did to themselves) last June 18.
They are now, as a result of Wednesday’s 118-113 win in Game Three of these NBA Finals, on the verge of finishing one of the most frightfully impressive seasons in the history of the sport by rolling the team that wallet-lifted them a year ago.
And the difference – yes, yes, I know you know already – was the nonpareil Kevin Durant, whose 31/8/4 line was rendered nearly invisible by his work turning around a seeming Cavaliers victory by with a basket/rebound/26-footer in a 30-second span of the final 1:15 turned the game, the series, and a whole lot of narratives, flight plans and hotel cancellations.
In stopping the disintegration of their worst half of the series by seizing the final three minutes, the Warriors displayed the iron spine and the willful refusal to bow to the inevitable that they have rarely had to display this postseason.
Plus, unlike last year’s collapse, which was nearly matched by Cleveland’s own dreadful shooting, the Warriors did it by resuscitating themselves in crunch time, which is a refreshing change from their usual M.O. of stomping a team early and then staying safely ahead.
It was the win that fleshes out their very likely championship as one of the sport’s most well-rounded teams. They won Game 1 by preventing the Cavs form doing what they wanted, Game 2 by doing whatever they wanted, and Game 3 by showing their fullest understanding yet of the art of the gut-check.
“It was just an incredibly tough, resilient performance,” said incredibly tough and resilient head coach Steve Kerr. “It wasn’t the smartest game that we’ve played all year, but it was maybe our toughest in terms of our ability to just hang in there.”
It was also satisfying entertainment for all but the most strident of Cleveland fans. The best players on both sides – Durant, Klay Thompson (30 and six), Stephen Curry (26/13/6), LeBron James (39/11/9) and Kyrie Irving (38/6/3) – were brilliant, save Draymond Green, who was dogged throughout by paralyzing foul trouble, and Kevin Love, who couldn’t make a basket worthy of the memory.
But the final three minutes were the Warriors at their most incandescently obstinate. Having lost the initiative in a sub-optimal third quarter, they had to scramble from behind in the fourth, and did so as though they the outcome was exactly the one nobody had prepared for. In the immortal words of Kyrie Irving, “Diown the stretch they were just more poised.”
And bloodless. And supremely, defiantly arrogant in their certainty. And that’s arrogant as in utterly self-assured, not arrogant as in preening and dismissive. They needed the Curry 12-footer and the Green rebound the Durant rebound-and-run for the 26-footer, and the defense by Thompson ion Irving and the block by Andre Iguodala on James (another bit of turnabout from a year ago) . . . it was almost a tapestry of single mindedness and brilliance under the most difficult of circumstances.
But maybe they knew that the two most important Cavaliers, James and Irving, could not sustain themselves at their rate of play for an entire night.
“Those guys had to do so much for them and they were doing it tonight, and they got better contributions from their bench, but I think we have an advantage in our depth, they don't have as much depth as we do. But those guys can win you a game, and you almost saw it tonight in LeBron and Kyrie. It didn't seem like they got tired, and they might not show it, but it's hard to do that for 48 minutes.”
“We didn’t change anything,” Kerr said of the late-game adjustment that weren’t made. “We discussed making changes but didn’t want to change anything,. The way they play, LeBron and Kyrie had it going the whole game, but that’s pretty taxing, and we kept telling them they would get tired, and fatigue would play a role.”
For his part, James dismissed that as an excuse, as he would. But his voice would not be heard in the wake of the result of the best game of what is probably going to be a shamefully short series.