Cleveland — They’re living in the Land of Make Believe now.
That’s the only sanctuary left for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the defending champs whose playoff slogan — “Defend the Land” — was no match for the reality of these NBA Finals.
The Golden State Warriors can’t be beaten.
And if you didn’t believe that before Wednesday night, surely you do today. Even the Cavaliers must at this point, after watching a late fourth-quarter lead evaporate in a 118-113 loss in Game 3 at Quicken Loans Arena.
Cleveland was up 113-107 after J.R. Smith drilled a 3-pointer with 3:09 left, and for the first time in the series — first time in the playoffs, for that matter — Golden State seemed something less than invincible. But then the Warriors scored the final 11 points to send the Cavaliers to their locker room — and the fans to the exits — in stunned silence.
Asked later to explain what happened down the stretch, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue seemed at a loss himself, “I don't know. I can't remember.”
And as for the end result?
“I mean, of course, you're deflated from losing a game that you should have won,” Lue said. “You're right there. But after tonight you’ve got to get back to the drawing board.”
Problem is, there’s nothing there that’ll change what happens next.
The Warriors just took the Cavaliers’ last, best shot and still walked off the court laughing. LeBron James scored a game-high 39 points to go with 11 rebounds and nine assists in 45 exhausting minutes. Kyrie Irving poured in 38 in 44 minutes. Yet it wasn’t enough, as Golden State claimed what Steph Curry called “the best win to date” in the Warriors’ dominant three-year run atop the NBA, from a title in 2015 through the NBA-record 73-win regular season a year ago to now.
“I’ve played against some great teams, but I don’t think any team has had this type of firepower,” James said. “Even when you’re playing well, you’ve got to play, like, A-plus-plus.”
That’s due mostly to the addition of Kevin Durant, obviously. James insisted at the outset of this series that Durant was the difference from last year to this, and the former MVP, who left Oklahoma City to join the Splash Brothers last summer, was the difference again Wednesday night. It was his 3-pointer with 45 seconds left — a “bomb in transition,” said James, who waved a hand helplessly in defense — that proved to be the dagger, giving Golden State the 114-113 lead and likely sealing his MVP honors in these Finals.
“You can tell, he knows this is his moment,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “He's been an amazing player in this league for a long time, and I think he's — he senses this is his time, his moment, his team. … I think he's having the time of his life out there.”
They all are, at this point — and it shows, as the Warriors seem determined not just to avenge last year’s loss in the Finals but also leave an indelible mark in the process.
"It's not over,” Durant insisted. “The job's not done."
But it’s all but done at this point. No NBA team has ever rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series, let alone the Finals. And no team has ever done what the Warriors, who haven’t lost a game in nearly two full months, are poised to do Friday night in Cleveland.
Indeed, the only real debate left is where this Golden State team will rank in the annals of basketball history. They’re one victory away from a clean sweep of these playoffs, 16 wins without a postseason loss — a feat unmatched in professional sports.
They'd downplayed it up to this point, fending off comparisons and shrugging off the speculation.
"But now that we're in this situation," Curry said, smiling, at the postgame podium well after midnight, "why not take care of business and finish the job."
Hidden behind that smile, though, was a feeling everyone in the building had. With this victory, the Warriors had already done just that.