CLEVELAND — The game was tight late in the second half, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors were playing about as poorly as they could. They both looked as if they were launching the ball into a stiff breeze.
It was only a matter of time before Golden State emerged victorious, claiming a 110-102 win in Game 3 of the NBA Finals for a three-games-to-none lead in the best-of-seven series. The Warriors can clinch back-to-back championships — and their third title in four seasons — in Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena on Friday night.
“We had our chances,” the Cavaliers’ LeBron James said.
Kevin Durant led the Warriors with 43 points and 13 rebounds, and his team needed all of his heroics. Golden State also benefited from an unexpected star turn from JaVale McGee, who started at center and finished with 10 points.
Three days after setting a Finals record with nine 3-pointers in Game 2, Curry labored to 11 points while shooting 3 of 16 from the field. Thompson had 11 points. But Curry made a key 3-pointer — his only one of the game — late in the fourth quarter to put the Warriors ahead by four. And after Andre Iguodala soared for a dunk, Durant drained a 3-pointer from 33 feet to all but seal the win.
“That was incredible what he did out there tonight,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Durant. “Some of those shots, I don’t think anybody in the world can hit those but him.”
James did all he could for the Cavaliers, collecting 33 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. As far as solo acts go in the NBA Finals, the world is witnessing one of the more extraordinary examples. In Game 3, James actually got significant help from his teammates for a change — help that seemed even more necessary after he twisted his right ankle in the second quarter.
“I twisted it pretty good,” James said.
Kevin Love finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds, and Rodney Hood scored 15 points off the bench.
But still, it did not really matter — not against the Warriors.
“You can’t have miscommunications,” James said. “You can’t have lulls. You can’t have ‘my bads.’ Because they’re going to make you pay.”
. Golden State had an additional benefit in the return of Iguodala, their veteran forward. He had not played since May 20, when he sustained a bone bruise in his left knee during Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. But the talent-rich Warriors advanced past the Houston Rockets without him — albeit in seven games — and took the first two games against the Cavaliers with him on the bench.
But Iguodala is a handyman for Golden State: He does a bit of everything and is also one of the team’s most effective defenders against James. Again, the Warriors were so potent on offense that they could overcome James’ heroics through the first two games of the series. But they knew that having Iguodala back for Game 3 would provide some insurance.
“He just never gets tired,” Kerr said, “even when he’s been out 2 1/2 weeks and hasn’t really been running much at all. He’s still able to play through all of that.”
Iguodala entered the game midway through the first quarter, then collected his first points on a dunk just over a minute later. In his 22 minutes of playing time, the Warriors outscored the Cavaliers by 14 points.
It was also the first game back home for the Cavaliers’ J.R. Smith since his well-publicized foible in Game 1, when he got the score wrong in the closing seconds of regulation and ran the wrong way with the ball. The Cavaliers wound up losing in overtime, and it loomed as one of the more deflating gaffes in recent postseason history — maybe ever.
Afterward, Smith said he was glad that it had happened to him, because he was not sure that everyone would be able to handle the fallout. (Then again, not everyone would make that sort of mistake in the first place. But we digress.)
The result of his error was that the Cavaliers returned to Cleveland in dire need of a win, rather than having a series tied at one game apiece. During player introductions, Smith was warmly received by the crowd. Then, he helped get the Cavaliers off to a strong start.
The Cavaliers made their first three shots, including a 3-pointer and a runner from Smith. Then came James, barreling down the paint after throwing a pass to himself off the backboard. As he rose, he collected the ball and then dunked, in a fluid motion. The roof of the building seemed in danger of blowing away.
The first half, by contrast, was a nightmare for Curry, who picked up two early fouls. Knowing that Curry would be fearful of picking up his third, James kept hunting for pick-and-rolls that involved Curry, trying to get Curry to defend him. James also got into the lane and acted as a facilitator, kicking passes to teammates for open 3-pointers. Cleveland led by as many as 13.
The Warriors were so disjointed that they came out of a timeout in the second quarter and were called for a 24-second violation. Draymond Green spent much of the first half screaming at the officials. Only Durant, who scored 24 points in the first half, appeared capable of keeping the game competitive. The Warriors trailed at halftime, 58-52.
But given the struggles of Curry and Thompson that stretched into the second half — well, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue made a logical conclusion afterward.
“You would think you’d win that game,” he said.
But Durant is not an ordinary player, and the Warriors are not an ordinary team. Another coronation is almost complete.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.