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Cavs seemingly find magic in third quarter, but Warriors, Durant have too much left

By MARLA RIDENOUR • Updated Jun 8, 2017 at 12:42 AM

CLEVELAND — When J.R. Smith's 3-point shot bounced in and out and in with 8:15 left in the third quarter Wednesday night, it felt as if the magic that carried the Cavaliers to the 2016 championship might be returning.

Especially when a Kyrie Irving bank shot 69 seconds later hung on the rim and rolled in.

Down 0-2 against the Golden State Warriors, the Cavs faced long odds in Game 3 of the NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. The Warriors were undefeated, winning the first two games of the series by a total of 41 points. The offseason addition of Kevin Durant had made them a juggernaut, presumably destined to make history.

Yet the Cavs did not believe national analysts who were convinced they were done. They found their mojo in the quarter that had bedeviled them the previous two games.

Irving finally awakened and poured in 16 of his 38 points in the third quarter, but it was still not enough. Durant scored seven points in the final 1:15 as the Warriors pulled out a crushing 118-113 victory.

The Cavs trail the Warriors 0-3 going into Friday night's home game. No team has rallied from that deficit to win a title. Of course, no team had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to capture a championship until the Cavs did it a year ago.

Unfortunately, the Cavs may have found what it took to beat the Warriors, yet still couldn't hang on to a six-point lead with 3:09 to go.

It wasn't that Smith or Kyle Korver provided help. It was that the Cavs outscored the Warriors by 11 in the third quarter after Golden State had claimed a plus-24 edge in that period in the first two games. In those 12 minutes, the Cavs rediscovered their intensity, their passion, and seemingly cut loose the cords of doubt.

But that revelation was short-lived. Now it appears the expiration date on their reign as defending champions may be a mere 48 hours.

There were hints of what kind of effort was coming from the Cavs on Wednesday morning. At shootaround, they were loose, undaunted. Korver proclaimed, "This series is far from over, we know that."

Seemingly, history was on their side. They'd taken Game 3 against the Warriors in the previous two Finals. Golden State coach Steve Kerr was 5-6 in the third game of a playoff series in his career. He admitted Tuesday that the Cavs' victory at the same point a year ago gave them the confidence win the title.

LeBron James had faced the same deficit five times before and his teams had gone 4-1 in Game 3 and won two series — in the 2016 Finals and against the Pistons in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals. His only loss had been in 2007, when the Cavs were swept by the Spurs for the NBA title when James was 22.

Now James and the Cavs are looking at perhaps another sweep.

In the first half Wednesday, the Cavs learned a hard lesson that was reinforced in the final 74 seconds. The Warriors set a Finals record for 3-pointers in any quarter with nine in the first. No matter how many points James scored, no matter how much they improved from game to game, it looked like the Warriors were the better team.

As soon as Cavs coach Tyronn Lue came up with something to slow down Durant, Klay Thompson got hot. Then just when the Cavs thought that Stephen Curry might be having an off night, going scoreless until 1:36 remained in the first quarter, Curry popped in two quick 3s and was off on his own run.

But somehow at halftime, the Cavs regrouped.

The home crowd did its part. It was so deafening in the Q that Kerr yelled at an official in the first half and went unheard. A fan in section 128 tried to taunt Durant with chants of "OKC" that were barely heard two rows down, much less on the court.

The atmosphere was highly charged, with Draymond Green called for a technical foul with 2:07 left in the second quarter for arguing a personal foul drawn by Richard Jefferson. Green also came out at his trash-talking best, ragging on Smith for his poor play less than two minutes into the game.

The play was physical, even among teammates. The Cavs survived a major scare with 5:48 left in the first quarter when James took a Tristan Thompson shoulder to his chin. James lay on his back for a couple minutes, his hands to his face, as fans feared a concussion.

Thompson and Green fell to the court wrestling for the ball in the third quarter, and Durant whacked Irving in the head defending an Irving shot minutes later. But it was almost as if those blows, those taunts by Green helped the Cavs remember what playing the Warriors requires.

But it still wasn't enough. The Cavs found themselves battling a budding dynasty, strengthened by Durant's addition. And as thrilling as the evening was, Durant was the difference.

And it won't likely be the last time Cavs fans will say that.


ABOUT THE WRITER Marla Ridenour is a columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal.


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