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James finished with 39 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, while Irving sliced through Golden State’s crowded paint for 38 points, making 16 of his 22 shots from inside the arc. For one night, Cleveland had the best duo on the court—and it still didn’t matter.
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“We just felt like the way they play, Kyrie and LeBron had it going the whole game, but that’s pretty taxing to go one-on-one the whole game,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said.
“Both those guys were amazing, 38 and 39. But that takes a lot out of you. We just kept telling the guys, ‘They’re going to get tired. Stay in front of them. Force them into outside shots if you can. Fatigue will play a role.’ And I think when you get guys playing 45, 44 minutes, basically attacking one-on-one the whole game, … you hope eventually it’s going to take its toll.”
As Golden State went 11 deep in their rotation, Cleveland could only rely on two.
While J.R. Smith provided a spirited 16 points after combining for just three in Games 1 and 2, no other Cavalier scored in double digits. Cleveland’s paint duo of Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson combined for 1-of-10 shooting from the field.
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Golden State’s march toward a perfect 16-0 postseason continues. Cleveland appeared to give the Warriors their best shot, with James and Irving combining for the most points by a losing duo in Finals history. This was the first time ever that James and Irving had both scored 30 or more points in the postseason and lost, something Irving didn’t think he would ever see.
“Nope. I mean, it’s hard to envision,” Irving said. “They’re definitely a different team than they were last year. That’s definitely in full effect … we’re all fully aware. Going down the stretch they’re a lot more poised, and when you have pieces like they have, they’re able to stretch the floor and give space to a great iso player at the top of the key and make big-time shots. That’s what they did.”
James now sits just one game away from his Finals record dropping to 3-5 overall, despite his annual dominant performances. Even averaging 32.0 points, 12.3 rebounds, 10.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks against Golden State hasn’t been enough to get Cleveland a single victory.
“I gave everything that I had,” James said.
“Before the series even started, we knew what we were dealing with. I said it after we won the Eastern Conference Finals that we’re getting ready for a juggernaut. It’s probably the most, most firepower I’ve played in my career.
“I played against some great teams, but I don’t think any team has had this type of firepower. So even when you’re playing well, you got to play like A-plus-plus, because they’re going to make runs, and they’re going to make shots, and they’ve got guys that are going to make plays.”
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The memory of a 3-1 comeback last June seems like decades ago. This deficit is different. This Warriors team, seemingly unstoppable. James, the best basketball player of this generation with two All-Star teammates, doesn’t have close to enough help to even make this a competitive series.
A 16-0 playoff record has never been done, yet this Warriors team is making it look easy at times with their ball movement, defense and overall star power. A perfect run through the postseason wasn’t the Warriors’ goal—at least, not when they began.
“It is now because we took care of tonight,” Stephen Curry said. “It’s not in terms of like 16-0 really, just of what that means historically. It’s just that’s what’s in front of us. We obviously know how hard it is to win a championship, what all goes into it and how important each game is. And now that you can look ahead to Friday, all our focus is on that. … obviously we want 16 wins; it doesn’t matter how we get there.
We know from last year that Cleveland plays its best basketball when backed into a corner, but this appears too much, even for James.
The 2016-17 Warriors are like no other team we’ve ever seen before, but one we could be seeing again for years to come.
Greg Swartz is the Cleveland Cavaliers Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.