KEVIN Durant had been somewhat of an afterthought in the opening two games of the NBA Finals.
Despite recording 26 points, six assists and nine rebounds in Game 1, and an ultra-efficient 26 points, seven assists and nine rebounds in Game 2, the reigning NBA Finals MVP had to cede the spotlight to LeBron James and Steph Curry.
In Game 3, he returned to centrestage with a vengeance.
Durant had 43 points, seven assists and 13 rebounds as the Golden State Warriors moved within one win of repeating as NBA champions with a 110-102 win.
On a night Curry may have cost himself a chance at winning his first Finals MVP as he made just 3/16 shots — including 1/10 three-point attempts — to finish with 11 points, Durant was everything Golden State needed as they fought back from a 13-point second quarter deficit.
“I saw LeBron score 29 out of 30 against the Pistons, I said that was the best playoff performance I’d seen since I’ve been on television,” NBA legend Charles Barkley told NBA TV. “This was a close second.”
Durant even produced an eerily similar dagger three to the one he killed off the Cavs with in Game 3 of last year’s finals to give Golden State a six-point lead with 50 seconds to play.
This was a masterful performance in every sense.
“Some of those shots, I don’t think anybody in the world but him can hit them,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
James’ statline was almost as impressive as he finished with a 33-point, 11-assist, 10-rebound triple double but his outside shot (1/6 threes) wasn’t as reliable as other games this postseason.
He also received more help than normal as Kevin Love (20 points, 13 rebounds) and surprise packet Rodney Hood (15 points, six rebounds) played well.
None of Durant’s teammates scored more than 11 as he found himself in a solo role James has played so often. He was good enough to carry his team to a win which sets Golden State up for a sweep on Saturday (AEST) and earned high praise from James
“He’s one of the best players I’ve ever played against and this league has ever seen,” James said. “He’s a scorer and he’s an assassin.”
Despite his horror night, Curry shook off his shooting slump when the Warriors needed it, hitting a layup and a wide open three to turn a 97-96 deficit into a 101-97 lead with 2:38 remaining.
James hit a three-pointer to make it 101-100 before Durant fed Andre Iguodala for a dunk and then dropped in a 33-footer.
“Hold Steph to 11 points and Klay (Thompson) to 10, you would think you would win that game,” Cavs coach Ty Lue said.
JR Smith (13 points, three steals) was better than he was on the road but Kyle Korver (0/4 for 0 points) continues to be a non-factor and Jeff Green also only managed three points in 18 minutes. “It’s been a tough series for Kyle,” Love said. “We need to find ways to get him shots.”
Durant’s unlikely support act
Golden State opened the third quarter with one of the dominant runs that have been a hallmark of this postseason but unusually it wasn’t Steph Curry leading the show.
Kevin Durant (34 points, 13 rebounds, five assists) was unstoppable as the Warriors turned a seven-point deficit into a five-point lead midway through the quarter. But his support act was a surprise.
Centre JaVale McGee continue his surprise run after being inserted into the starting line-up for Game 2 by scoring eight points in the first three minutes of the quarter.
LeBron James (21 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds) had to rely on his teammates to keep the margin close as the Cavs trailed 83-81 with a quarter to play.
Curry is suffering through a rough night, hitting just 1/11 from the field, including 0/7 from three, for just four points.
First half a Durant-LeBron showdown
EVERY time LeBron James threatened to give Cleveland a stranglehold on Game 3, Kevin Durant fired back to keep Golden State in range.
The first half showcased the talents of two of the best basketballers in the world as James (14 points, nine assists, six rebounds) drove Cleveland to a 58-52 lead.
It was as large as 13 points during the second quarter as Kevin Love (15 points, 10 rebounds), JR Smith (10 points) and Rodney Hood (six points, in his first meaningful minutes in the series) also fired for the home team.
But whenever it felt like it was getting out of hand Durant (24 points, eight rebounds) was there to step up for the Warriors.
Jordan Bell was Golden State’s next highest scorer with seven points as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were a combined 3/15 from the field.
Highlighting the visitors’ offensive struggles, even Shaun Livingston missed a shot after making his first 11 field goal attempts of the series.