So close, yet so far: NBA Finals Game 3, Behind the Box Score

Golden State Warriors 118
Cleveland Cavaliers 113
[Box Score]

Painted along the border near the ceiling of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ locker room is a Beats by Dre advertisement which states “Cleveland will be heard.” Following Game 3’s crushing loss at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, all one could hear were the opening and closing of doors to the shower and team training room, and the unwininding of plastic wrap used to adhere packs of ice to the soon-to-be swollen joints of a team that was moments away from making the 2017 NBA Finals a 2-1 series, only to see it slip away in the game’s final seconds.

“Shit,” said an exasperated James, falling back into the chair outside of his locker, having played just under 46 minutes of a regulation basketball game. His teammate Kyrie Irving spoke without uttering a word, slowly making his way from the cold tub to his locker where he sat for nearly 30 seconds before making his next move. Upon getting dressed, Irving sat back down and looked toward that very ceiling in a moment that silently screamed “What more can we do?” The Cavaliers locker room was so quiet following the loss that the whisper-level tones of players addressing the media could be heard from 15-or-so feet away.

Desperately needing a win on the road to keep the 2016 NBA Finals alive, James and Irving each put up 41 points to send the series back to Cleveland where the rest of the Cavaliers’ otherwise unbelievable story would continue to be written. Once again in an 0-2 hole, it was James and Irving who spoke at length on Wednesday following practice, saying that they each knew what was necessary if the Cavs weren’t going to be buried midway through their attempt to repeat as NBA Champions. What would transpire on Thursday night during Game 3 of the 2017 edition of the Finals was a masters class in basketball at its highest level, two teams going back and forth in a flurry of runs with the biggest stars in the game willing their respective team in their own respective ways. For the Cavaliers, it was James and Irving who put up 39 and 38 points, respectively. For the Warriors, it was 26 from Steph Curry and 31 from Kevin Durant, none of which were bigger than the transition three-pointer that put Golden State up one with less than a minute remaining after the Cavaliers had held the lead for the majority of the game’s final minutes.

“Great players, they always dig deep and have their will to win,” said Cavaliers coach Ty Lue following the 118-113 loss. “They gave us everything they had. Durant made eight straight points that was very critical, three big shots, and that’s why they brought him here, for those situations.”

With his three-point shot evading him for a night, Irving—as he’s wont to do—put on a display for the ages underneath the rim, barraging the Warriors with euro steps, spin moves off of the glass, and up-and-under moves that missed opposing finger tips by an atom’s circumference. James had much more luck from deep, but did his damage in a variety of ways—transition dunks, timely treys, and a solid, if not quiet night from the line—while adding 11 rebounds and nine assists.

Following the game, James spoke as a man who hoped there were additional answers to be found, but he looked like a man who had poured out everything he had over the course of the evening, only to see it not be enough against a juggernaut of an opponent.

“For me personally, I gave everything I had tonight,” said James. “So win, lose, or draw, you live with the results. They played a really good game as well, but they made shots, they made shot down the stretch. They got stops, which they have been doing. We shot in the low 40s again. They got stops and then they made play after play down the stretch.

“It’s probably the most, most firepower I’ve played in my career. I played against some great teams, but I don’t think no team has had this type of firepower. So even when you’re playing well, you got to play like A-plus-plus, because they’re going to make runs and they’re going to make shots and they got guys that’s going to make plays. So we made enough plays tonight to still win the ball game, but they made a couple more.”

James, in all of his work, tallied his eighth double-double of the playoffs, becoming the player to amass the third most 25-point games in NBA Finals history. He moved past Sam Mitchell, Bill Russell and Elgin Baylor for fourth place on the NBA Finals all-time scoring list, while moving past Bill Russell for third most assists in the game’s most prestigious series. Lue, along with James and Irving, stated that the team would go back to watch film and see where they can get better, but it’s tough to envision a scenario where the team’s stars could once again play at the level they did while forcing Golden State into the 18 turnovers they coughed up, yet somehow do enough to put the team over the top.

“It’s physically and emotionally draining because I give everything to the game and want to put myself and my teammates in a position to be successful,” James continued. “So but I lay it all on the floor, and I did that tonight, gave everything that I had, both mentally and physically. So obviously I’m drained right now, ready to get home. But you’re going against a team like this and you put together a game like we had where we had an opportunity, it’s definitely draining.”

As would be the case with a game of this magnitude, the home team in a deficit many already felt to be insurmountable, every moment, especially from halftime on, felt live-or-die. Both teams missed their fair share of attempts near the rim, including Golden State’s Andre Iguodala who missed a dunk attempt with his team down three and four minutes remaining in the game, and James on the ensuing possession with a layup too high off of the glass. A seesaw of emotions, Golden State’s bevy of shooters attempted to get in the lead throughout the game’s final quarter, but solid defense from Irving on Curry was coupled with missed attempts from both Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant as “DE-FENSE” chants rained down from the 20,562 fans in attendance saw the Cavaliers have a six-point lead with just three minutes remaining. It would quickly dissipate, however, as Durant would go on his run while the Cavaliers would see their shooting go ice cold.

As James made his way down the corridors of Quicken Loans Arena following his postgame address, he was flanked by his usual security detail which doubles as close friends. He walked slowly and spoke quietly—at least until he rounded into the player’s garage where his two-and-a-half year old daughter Zhuri sprinted toward him with a toddler run, yelling “Daddy!” James scooped her up, hoisting her roughly seven feet in the air while letting out a roar-like “ooahhhh”—easily the loudest sound of the entire post-game landscape.

15 — Fourteen straight wins for the Golden State Warriors in the 2017 NBA Playoffs, the longest such a streak in NBA history which also becomes the longest playoff winning streak of the four major North American sports. They’ve now won 30 of their last 31 games dating back to the regular season, which is pretty disgusting when you consider the level of competition over the last month and a half.

30 — With Durant (31), Klay Thompson (30), James (39) and Irving (38) all posting 30-plus scoring games, Game 3 marked just the second Finals game in NBA history that featured four 30-plus scorers.

9 — The Cleveland Cavaliers played what was arguably their best quarter of the NBA Finals in the first quarter of Game 3, but it was the Golden State Warriors who set an NBA record with nine three-pointers in the first 12 minutes, four of which were by Klay Thompson on five attempts.

51.2 — The Cavaliers’ first-half shooting percentage, one-tenth better than the Warriors. Alas, the Cavs went into the half down six as the Warriors took four more shots and cashed in on 12 threes while Cleveland was 5-of-18.

16 — After LeBron James dropped 15 in the first quarter, Kyrie Irving one-upped him Uncle Drew style by going 7-of-10 for 16 points. At one point, he corralled the ball under the Cavaliers basket and sprinted down the floor, taking on four Golden State Warriors defenders, eurostepping his way to a highlight reel layup. He added two assists (and no turnovers) for good measure.

3.06 — The number of miles covered by Irving over the course of the night, the only player in the game to break the three-mile mark.

77 — The number of points tallied by LeBron James and Kyrie Irving marking the highest total by a duo in a losing effort in NBA Finals history. (Elias)

82.3 — The percentage of the Cavaliers’ points scored by James, Irving and J.R. Smith (16). The last time a trio of Cavaliers combined to drop 93 was against the Boston Celtics on May 23 where Cleveland only scored 112 points. They won that game, however.

1 — The combined number of field goals made by Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson and Deron Williams who combined to shoot 1-of-17. Only Kyle Korver (3-of-7) hit a field goal off of the bench. This simply can’t happen if the team expects to win basketball games against any Finals caliber team, let alone this one.

126 — The number of playoffs (seven-game) series in NBA history where a team has taken a 3-0 lead. None of the 126 have ever lost the series.

2 — The number of days remaining until Friday’s Game 4. It’s tough to not envision this as the best shot Cleveland had to win a basketball game in this series. Really tough.