CLEVELAND — The NBA Finals won’t be making a return trip to Cleveland. I’m talking about this series featuring the Warriors and the Cavaliers. And I’m talking about the foreseeable future.
The visitors snatched the Cavs’ souls on Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena, eliminating the last legitimate chance of a Cleveland championship in 2018 with a 110-102 victory in Game 3. In effect, the Warriors secured their third NBA championship in four years. It’s hard to believe they won’t be back for more, and more after that. And it’s equally hard to believe this iteration of the Cavaliers will rise to meet them again.
Goodbye, Warriors-Cavs. It was quite a fight while it lasted.
Consider the Cavaliers’ mental state after Game 3. They did so many things well on Wednesday. LeBron James had his predictable triple-double, with 33 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Kevin Love wreaked havoc in the first half, both rebounding and shooting the ball. Cleveland got the extra role player it needed, with Rodney Hood emerging to score 15 points.
On the other side of the coin, the Warriors did a lot of things terribly. Most obvious, Stephen Curry shot the ball as if he had seven broken fingers. Three days after setting an NBA Finals record with nine made 3-pointers, he connected on 1 of 10. Curry finished with 11 points, one of the worst postseason games of his career. Draymond Green, Golden State’s emotional leader, absorbed three early fouls, got hit with a technical and did not have a fantastic game.
With all of that, it was the Warriors who left the court as winners, as they have so frequently in this arena. They nursed a 101-100 lead with 1:57 left in the game. And then they asserted themselves as the better team and closed the deal. It was a close game, perhaps a great game, but the outcome felt as inevitable as sunset.
How do the Cavaliers bounce back from that, especially after absorbing an even more painful setback in Game 1 last Thursday?
“For me, tonight will be tough,” LeBron James admitted after Wednesday’s loss.
How do the Cavaliers reckon with the fact that they are down 3-0 against a team that can martial so many ways of beating you, a team that is clearly superior to theirs?
“It’s almost like playing the Patriots, you can’t have mistakes,” James said. “They’re not going to beat themselves. … You can’t have miscommunication, you can’t have flaws, you can’t have ‘my faults’ or ‘my bads’ or things like that, because they’re going to make you pay.”
As his teammate Love put it: “That margin for error is so thin and so little against them that in some cases, you almost have to be perfect.”
The Cavaliers have a lot of collective pride, and they will certainly put up a fight in Game 4 on Friday. They might even win that one, as they did in Game 4 here last year. But they are cooked. There is no coming back from this deficit, against this foe.
If the Warriors don’t win Friday, they will wrap things up back at Oracle Arena on Monday. They will be champions again, and we can finally compare them to Jordan’s Bulls and Magic’s Lakers with a straight face.