As the first of Cleveland’s fans faced the brutal reality that Wednesday night’s Game 3 against the Golden State was about to end in futility — that the season was all but over — they somberly headed for the exists in Quicken Loans Arena exists.
Their black T-shirts with dried blood maroon lettering ‘CLE,’ was apparel fitting for a basketball funeral procession.
The most aware Cavs fans — certainly the ones that felt burned in 2010 when the King left for Miami — were trying to hold back the truly ghastly notion that Friday night’s Game 4 could be the last time they see LeBron James in a Cleveland jersey.
Yes, he left them once before only to return to end the city’s death row wait of “The Land Without a Title.”
All was forgiven. But not forgotten. James has never fully accepted owner Dan Gilbert’s apology for the scathing remarks he made upon The King’s departure.
You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.
James now is 33 and a free agent, which means if he leaves Cleveland again, it almost surely will be for the last time. Somehow he’s put another .500 caliber team on his refrigerator-sized shoulders and carried them to his eighth straight Finals appearance. Eight!
Long before Game 3’s 110-102 loss had tipped, there reports that James would visit the Celtics. Another report had him and Paul George heading to L.A. where James owns a home. Golden State reportedly is a team that intrigues James and why not.
They have mastered the art of subjugating their personal stats for the good of the team. And what a team it is.
In Wednesday night’s victory, the Cavs did as good a job defensively as any team could, holding Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to 21 points on 7-of-27 shooting. You see those numbers and think, ‘Cleveland Back in the Series!’
Not. This multi-headed snake of a Golden State team, led by “King Cobra”, Kevin Durant, has more answers than Alex Trebek. On this night, Durant was the best player on the planet, not James.
Durant scored a personal playoff career-high 43 points in 43 minutes. He is averaging 29.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists in the postseason. He’s the sixth player all-time to register at least 40 points, 10 rebounds and five assists on the road in the NBA Finals.
“I mean, you guys ask me what is the difference between the Warriors — you guys asked me this last year, what was the difference between the Warriors the previous year and this year, and what was my answer?’’ James said. “All right. There it is. Kevin Durant was my answer.’’
James is averaging 34.5 points, 9.0 assists and 9.2 rebounds in the postseason. He has the second-highest Finals scoring average, highlighted by his personal career mark of 51 in Game 1. But Durant’s team is up 3-0 and if he plays well in Game 4, KD gets the MVP and LeBron gets a lot of questions about his future.
STAR OF THE GAME: Durant was simply breathtaking. He made 16-of-23 shots including 6-of-9 from bending the arc, including his 33-footer with 49.8 seconds remaining that gave Golden State a 106-100 lead. Durant added 13 rebounds and seven assists. Since shooting 8-of-22 in Game 1, Durant has made 26-of-37 field goal attempts including 8-of-12 on 3’s.
STAT OF THE GAME: Despite playing at home where coach Tyronn Lue assured Cavs fans his team would be much more aggressive and having the greatest attacking forward in the game’s history, Cleveland didn’t attempt a single free throw in the first half. The Cavs took as many foul shots (17, making 13) as Golden State made (17-of-19). With its limited offensive options, Cleveland has to get to the line more in Game 4.
KEY STRETCH: There were two. Cleveland built a 16-4 lead in the first quarter only to have Golden State rally to trail 29-28 going into the second quarter. With 4:06 left in the second, the Cavs seized a 50-37 lead, their largest of the series. The Warriors again surged to get within 58-52 entering halftime. The Cavs never broke open the game when they could have.
QUOTE OF THE SERIES: LeBron on leading this underwhelming Cleveland team to the Finals.
“I put our team in position to try to win a championship, to compete for a championship,” James said. “You know, it’s my job to make sure that we’re as focused, laser-focused as possible, do my job, and continue to instill confidence into my teammates until the last horn sounds.
“That’s my job. That’s my responsibility. That’s my obligation, and I need to continue to do that, which I will.”