CLEVELAND, Ohio — On a night when most of the Golden State Warriors didn’t have it, Kevin Durant went on an offensive explosion. The 6-foot-11 forward scored a game-high 43 points, single-handedly leading his team to a 110-102 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night to take a commanding 3-0 series lead in the NBA Finals.
“I try not to think about just scoring, but, you know, we struggled to shoot the ball early on and I felt like I had some good looks,” Durant said. “I started asking for more of them, and I was able to knock down some shots for us.”
The Warriors became the first team in history to take a 3-0 lead in back-to-back Finals.
“That was amazing what he did out there tonight,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Some of those shots, I don’t think anybody in the world can hit those but him. He was incredible.”
Durant was an efficient 15-of-23 from the field and 6-of-9 from 3-point range. He also pulled down 13 rebounds, tying Kevin Love for the game high, and distributed seven assists in 43 minutes.
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.
No other Warriors player scored over 11 points. Stephen Curry (1-of-10 from 3) and Klay Thompson combined to shoot 7-for-27. Durant continuously made timely, momentum-stopping shots. To end the first half, he made a 34-foot 3-pointer to trim the deficit to six after the Cavaliers held a 13-point advantage.
But the biggest shot of the evening came with under a minute left.
Golden State was up three and Durant was being guarded by Rodney Hood 35 feet from the basket. He called for a screen from Andre Iguodala to get JR Smith to switch on him, but as soon as Iguodala came with the pick, Durant raised up with four seconds on the shot clock and drilled a deep 33-foot dagger 3-pointer over the outstretched hands of Smith.
After watching the ball swish through the net, a deadpan Durant casually walked to the Warriors’ bench while Curry was in his face yelling ecstatically and Draymond Green behind him cursing with joy.
“Yeah, I actually said the wrong thing,” Green said. “It was almost like I was cussing him out, but I was so happy. I was like yelling the wrong thing. But that was a huge shot. … Just to put a dagger in them like that, that was a huge shot. So, I can’t — I don’t really know. Like it was just high emotion.”
As Warriors backup point guard Shaun Livingston was walking to the locker room after the game, he yelled: “That’s the way to take all the air out of the building.”
“I mean, I just love that support from my teammates,” Durant said, “and I think we all just support each other in a real — with a real childlike approach to the game. That’s rare in the NBA because we’re all professionals. We’re all grown men. But I think having guys that get so excited about a good play, a good block or a good rotation or a good shot or dagger shot. I think everybody gets excited for the small parts of the game, and Steph is one of those guys that just brings that joy.”
Durant was 4-for-4 on triples 30 feet and out. Since joining the Warriors, he had connected on only two 3s from 30-plus feet and had never done it more than once in game throughout his career.
LeBron James just had to tip his hat.
“You know, he’s an assassin, and that was one of those assassin plays right there,” he said.
That basket was noticeably similar to the 3-pointer Durant knocked down over James in Game 3 of the 2017 Finals with 45 seconds left to give the Warriors a one-point edge and a 3-0 series lead.
“It’s a different game, different season,” Durant said. “I mean, different feel. Just a different vibe around the team, around just — everything’s just different. But I’m not done playing basketball yet, so I don’t really look at these as defining moments. I don’t want to downplay anything, but I don’t want to act like this is the end of the road.”
Golden State is one win away from capturing back-to-back titles and three in the past four years. Cleveland kept everyone in check with the exception of Durant.
And his presence continues to be the difference-maker.
“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? All right. There it is. Kevin Durant was my answer,” James said. “He’s one of the best players that I’ve ever played against that this league has ever seen. His ability to handle the ball, shoot the ball, make plays at his length, his size, his speed. So there it is.”