Culture of Hoops

Kevin Durant Stakes His Claim As New King Of The League

Screen Capture courtesy of NBA/YouTube.

Screen Capture courtesy of NBA/YouTube.

Now that was what we signed up for. The Golden State Warriors officially put the 2017 NBA Finals on ice last night with a 118-113 Game 3 victory. They now sit one game away from perfection and history. Still, Game 3 was everything we wanted between these two teams. The stars all showed up in some capacity. The referees did not intervene in crucial moments and the coaches kept it simple.

Let’s start at the beginning. From the start the Cavs tried to desperately gain momentum. J.R. Smith hit a three to open the game for Cleveland followed by LeBron James, who totaled 15 points for the opening frame. The Warriors responded to that with a Finals record nine three-pointers in the quarter. Klay Thompson led the way with 16 points.

The biggest takeaway came when LeBron sat the final two minutes of the quarter, one minute and 49 seconds to be precise. In that short amount of time the Cavs’ lead evaporated with a 10-0 Warriors run. It’s obvious in hindsight, but for LeBron to win a game let alone the series he cannot leave the floor. He came back onto the floor to start the second quarter and never left.

That is an ode to the true dominance of the Warriors. LeBron, the best player walking God’s green earth, has thrown haymakers to no avail. He cannot even afford to take a five minute rest because the game could realistically be out of reach. LeBron and company kept coming however. Hell, even Kyle Korver added his 16th career dunk.

LeBron finished the half with 27 points and the Cavs won the quarter 29-28. The Warriors still headed to locker room with a six-point lead. A main reason for that was Stephen Curry. If the Kevin Durant signing did nothing else but let Curry get loose it would still be worth every penny of the $54 million the Dubs gave him.

This has been the Finals performance we have been waiting for from Curry. He bares no resemblance to the Curry we saw get outplayed in last year’s Finals and more like the guy who won back-to-back MVPs and changed the way kids want to play basketball. Durant (we’ll get to him in a second) has been the best player for Golden State but Curry is right on his ass for Finals MVP. In addition to hitting threes like their layups he is also rebounding like a monster as he has completely outshined Kyrie Irving who had yet to arrive at the series.

In the third quarter Kyrie finally arrived. LeBron finally had someone else to help him out. Kyrie looked like the guy we saw at the tail end of last season’s Finals and not the footnote from the previous two games. Thompson has had the clamps on Kyrie most of the series, but in the third I’m not sure a straitjacket could have stopped Kyrie from finishing at the rim. Kevin Love added some crucial rebounds as did Richard Jefferson, the only Cavs bench player to show up this series. The Cavs won their first third quarter of the series 33-22 and led heading into the fourth for the first time.

Then Kevin Durant joined the fray. He was solid throughout the first half (16 points) but was quiet in the third. That changed in the fourth.

“He [Durant] took over,” Warriors head coach Kerr told reporters. “You can tell he knows this is his moment. He’s been an amazing player in this league for a long time. He senses this is his time, his moment, his team.”

It was as if the Warriors were merely playing rope-a-dope with LeBron. They let the King get whatever he pleased through the first three quarters in hopes he would tire out. He did and Durant was there for the final flurry and eventual knockout punch. The worst takes about KD’s series is that he has “arrived”. Anyone stupid enough to make such a statement hasn’t watched KD cook before. His 31 points in Game 3 gave him his eighth straight Finals game with at least 25 points joining Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal.

Durant’s 14 points were capped off with one of the coldest pull-up threes I’ve ever seen. Following a bad shot by the Cavs the defense scrambled, Durant was at the top of the arc with LeBron guarding him. Then Durant hit the shot of his career thus far.

That shot felt more than the Warriors retaking the lead. It felt like Durant staking his claim as the new king. LeBron has had an Avon Barksdale-like hold on the league for the last seven years. Last night it felt like Durant was Marlo Stanfield ruthlessly taking down the empire.

For all intents and purposes this series is over. The Cavs have to feel defeated although they will never admit it. They played their best game of the series and still lost. Durant, Curry and Thompson each scored 25 points in the win becoming just the sixth trio to do that in a non-OT Finals game.

When the series likely wraps up on Friday take it in. This Warriors team has reached the level of dominance we all panicked the Miami Heat would reach in 2012. Back then Durant was the one looking helpless as LeBron’s superteam stomped out his OKC family. You can think of this as Durant returning the favor.

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