CLEVELAND — The Golden State Warriors have been in this precise position before, and they suffered a hiccup before they tasted champagne.
Golden State is the only team in NBA history to lead consecutive Finals 3-0. Both times it was against the Cleveland Cavaliers, including the 2018 Finals that could end with a Warriors win in Game 4 on Friday.
Last season, with a chance to clinch its second title in three years on Cleveland’s home court, the Cavs banged 24 3s and forced a Game 5.
“It’s different, man. I keep telling people,” Golden State’s Kevin Durant said. “It’s just a different vibe because we’ve been through a season with each other already as champions, going through a whole season. So we know exactly what we need to do in order for us to win.
“We wanted to do that, focus on that as much as possible. The emotions and all that stuff doesn’t really matter. We just try to play a solid, focused game, and we’ll figure out how to feel afterward.”
The Warriors are searching for their third title in four years — all against Cleveland — and their sixth title overall, which would tie them for third all time.
Durant, solid through the first two Finals games, jockeyed into pole position to win Finals MVP for the second consecutive season in Game 3 with his playoff-career-high 43 points in the Warriors’ 110-102 win.
Durant is averaging 31.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 6.7 assists in the Finals. His numbers are a little behind those of LeBron James (37.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 10.7 assists) in this series, but Durant has the better team.
Stephen Curry set an NBA record with nine 3s in Game 2 and then shot 1 of 10 from 3 in Game 3. And the Warriors still had enough to beat the Cavs for the 10th time in the last 11 games, counting the regular season.
“We’ve had an opportunity to win two of these games in this three-game series so far, and we haven’t come up with it,” James said. “Obviously, from a talent perspective, if you’re looking at Golden State from their top five best players to our top five players, you would say they’re stacked better than us.
“We have a lot of talent as well. We’ve been in a position where we could win two out of these three games. So what do we have to do?”
No team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit in the NBA playoffs (0-131). But the Cavs are nonetheless a tough out. They’re 7-2 in elimination games since 2015 and have successfully faced down elimination three times already this season.
Kevin Love has registered at least 20 points and 10 boards in all three games so far, giving James at least one layer of support against the vaunted Warriors.
“We’ve given ourselves a chance,” Love said. “I know that we’ll come out in Game 4 and really compete. We’re not going to give in.”
The Cavs blew a 13-point lead in Game 3, and their disastrous final 36 seconds in regulation of Game 1 took away a win. This series could look a lot differently than it does right now, and the Warriors say they think the Cavs aren’t quite finished just yet.
“Just understand the details defensively of what we need to do against a team like Cleveland, with the threats that they have,” Curry said. “Understanding that Game 4 is going to be the toughest game that we’ve played in the series, to close it out. We’re going to need energy, effort, focus from every guy that steps foot on the floor for 48 minutes.”
James could be a free agent at season’s end. If he leaves Cleveland for a second time, the Cavs’ run of four straight Finals would almost certainly end. They could seek to trade Love and rebuild if that domino falls.
“These four years have been great,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “It’s not over. It’s not over. But, I mean, I wouldn’t trade it in for anything in the world.”