“We thought we were going to win,” James said. “We had an opportunity.”
James collected 39 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists, and Kyrie Irving added 38 points — and still, it was not enough. Not against the Warriors and their all-world assemblage of talent. Durant finished with 31 points. Klay Thompson scored 30 points for Golden State, and Stephen Curry had 26 points and 13 rebounds.
As this best-of-seven series moves to Game 4, scheduled for Friday night in Cleveland, the only question left seems to be whether the Warriors can become the first team in N.B.A. history to finish the playoffs with a 16-0 record. They are one win away, of course. It would be the starkest symbol of their dominance this season.
“Having a close game down the stretch — honestly, it’s been a while,” Curry said.
The bad news for Cleveland: No team in the finals has ever rebounded from a 3-0 series deficit to win the championship. Twelve teams have tried, and 12 teams have failed.
In addition, the Warriors have not lost a game since April 10. They would need to lose four in the next 11 days to miss out on another title. It seems — what is the word? — unlikely.
The Warriors entered the game mindful of what had happened against the Cavaliers in Game 3 of the finals last season. After losing the first two games of the series, the Cavaliers came out and crushed the Warriors by 30 here — a startling result that gave the Cavaliers new life. They went on to win the championship, their first, in seven games.
“I think we’re better from our experiences,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said. “You win a championship, then lose one in heartbreaking fashion — you’ve pretty much seen everything at that point.”
On Wednesday, J. R. Smith gave the Cavaliers a 6-point lead when he sank a 3-pointer with just over three minutes remaining. Cleveland would not score again. Golden State gladly filled the void. Curry made a layup, and then Durant connected along the baseline. After Kyle Korver of the Cavaliers missed an open 3-pointer, Durant spotted up from the top of the arc — swish — for a 114-113 lead.
Irving left a jump shot short, and Durant and Curry finished the game with four straight free throws.
“It wasn’t our smartest game that we played all year,” Kerr said, “but it was maybe our toughest.”
Before the game, James talked about improving his own play, about inspiring his teammates and about focusing on the task at hand. At the same time, he appeared to mix resolve with a hint of resignation. In the first two games of the series, James averaged 28.5 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists — and the Cavaliers got clobbered both times.
“I leave everything that I have out on the floor every night,” James said, “so I’m always satisfied with the way I play.”