LeBron James tips hat to Kevin Durant; Tristan Thompson says Cavs 'going to keep fighting'

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Thursday, June 7, 2018

CLEVELAND -- Trailing 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals for the second straight year, LeBron James said Golden State's team construction makes it possible for two-time MVP Stephen Curry to have a terrible shooting night like he did Wednesday and still come away with a result like their 110-102 Game 3 win.

"That's why they've retooled this team," the Cleveland Cavaliers star said when asked about Kevin Durant's presence more than covering for Curry's 3-for-16 shooting display, including 1-for-10 from 3-point territory. "[That's why they] went out and got KD, to where there's really not much pressure on -- you know, I won't say 'any of them' to score, but if one of them has a bad game, they have three or four guys that can actually pick up the load."

Curry was coming off a Game 2 in which he hit a Finals-record nine 3-pointers en route to 33 points. Klay Thompson was coming off a Game 2 in which he scored 20 points. The pair combined for just 21 points in Game 3, but it hardly mattered thanks to a career playoff-high 43 points by Durant on 15-for-23 shooting and 6-for-9 on 3s.

Durant's night included a dramatic 32-foot pull-up 3 from the left wing with 49.8 seconds remaining that doubled the Warriors' lead from to six points and ostensibly sealed the victory.

In Game 3 of the 2017 Finals, which the Warriors closed on an 11-0 run to win 118-113 and take an identical 3-0 lead, Durant hit a 26-foot 3 from the left wing with 45 seconds left to give Golden State the lead for good.

"That wasn't the same shot," James said. "The one he made tonight was about four or five feet behind the one he made last year. Last year, we were up two, and he pulled up pretty much right at the 3-point line and I got a great contest, but he made it.

"Tonight, they're up three. They come off a pick-and-roll and he just stopped behind and pulled four or five feet behind the 3-point line. So, same wing, different location.

"But you definitely tip your hat. I mean, that's what he does. He's a scorer. You know, he's an assassin and that was one of those assassin plays right there."

Golden State signed Durant as a free agent in the summer of 2016 after their team that went a record 73-9 in the regular season lost to Cleveland in Game 7 of the Finals, becoming the first team in league history to blow a 3-1 Finals lead.

"It's a big difference," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said when asked to compare the pre- and post-Durant Warriors. "He's one of the best one-on-one players in our league. ... His one-on-one ability really saved them again tonight."

By one measure, it was far and away the most impressive game of Durant's career as he made four shots from 30 feet out or farther. In his career, Durant had never made more than one shot from 30 feet out in a game over the 896 career games he'd played in his regular season and postseason combined coming into Wednesday, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Furthermore, the four made shots from 30 feet out by Durant were more than any team has made in a playoff game in the past 20 postseasons.

"It's tough because that is what you pray for, [Curry and Thompson] missing like that," Cavs guard JR Smith said. "Playing great defense, getting offensive rebounds and loose balls -- and they have a 7-2 guard out there cooking."

The Warriors are the 14th team to go up 3-0 in the Finals. The previous 13 teams to do it went on to win the series. The last sweep in the Finals was San Antonio over Cleveland in 2007 in James' debut trip to the championship round.

James elaborated on the challenge the Warriors present since adding Durant. The Warriors are now 7-1 against the Cavs in the Finals with Durant after going 7-6 in the two previous Finals against Cleveland without him.

"You know that you can never relax. You know if you relax, they make you pay, and making you pay could cost you a game," James said. "So, it's tough, but it's all part of the competition, which I love and which I continue to lace them up [for] every night."

"It's almost like playing the Patriots," James added. "You can't have mistakes. They're not going to beat themselves."

Game 4 is Friday (9 p.m. ET, ABC).

"We're going to keep fighting," Tristan Thompson said. "It's the first team to four wins, right? We're on our home floor. For ourselves and for our fans, we've got to go out there and give everything we've got. And if we can do that, guys can look in the mirror and live with themselves."

Last June, after losing Game 3, Cleveland bounced back to win Game 4 in convincing fashion 137-116.

"We're still in the NBA Finals," Smith said. "We still have to have that enthusiasm, trust and belief that we can get this thing done. If we don't, then don't come to practice tomorrow."

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