The bad dream that’s afflicting LeBron James is a long one, replete with horrors. J.R. Smith is there, wandering around with a lit M-80 in his hand. Jordan Clarkson is somehow lurking around every corner, wearing Kobe Bryant’s face as a mask. Kevin Love’s drowning in a glass water tank and LeBron can’t break him out, no matter how hard he tries. LeBron can deal with most of this, but there’s always one monster, at the end of the dream, that he can’t escape from.
Kevin Durant did almost exactly what he did in Game 3 of last season’s Finals, pulling up from three in the final minute to send the Cavs tumbling out of the series for good. Last year’s version gave the Warriors the lead, and was thus an objectively bigger shot, but last night’s felt crueler. This time Durant added another five feet between himself in the basket, and most likely guaranteed that LeBron only has another game or two left in his Cavaliers career.
The shot was a perfect ending to a legendary performance. Durant finished the game with 43 points on 23 shots to go along with 13 rebounds and seven assists. The Warriors needed that box score to be just as plump as it was, too, because Durant’s teammates were really nowhere to be found. Curry was awful, shooting 1-of-10 from three; Klay Thompson had just 10 points in 41 minutes; no other starter scored more than 11 points.
Durant was so good that he rendered all the things that went right for the Cavs in Game 3 completely meaningless. Kevin Love was bullying people in ways we haven’t seen since his Minnesota days, and finished with an efficient 20 points and 13 rebounds. Tristan Thompson was fine, and Ty Lue even managed to pull a crumpled dollar in the form of Rodney Hood out of his pocket. Hood scored 15 points in just 26 minutes after not having played any meaningful minutes since May 15, and for a little while there it looked like we were on our way to talking about The Rodney Hood Game (wow, it’s even more depressing when you write it out).
I haven’t mentioned LeBron James yet, in part because it’s almost too crushing to consider how useless his 33-11-10 was in the face of Durant rising and hitting over and over again. 33-11-10 is the kind of box score that should be ensconced right next to 51-8-8 in James’s newest collection of heroic Finals-winning performances. Instead, it’s stuck under Kevin Durant’s foot.
Is this fun? The Warriors definitely play fun basketball, and Durant is inarguably a thrilling sight to behold, but nothing about last night’s game felt like a memorable entry into NBA Finals history. Two of the greatest players in the world duking it out in a Finals game that came down to the last minute is supposed to be an experience that all basketball fans live to see, but the Warriors’ invincibility has a way of making objective thrills feel mundane. Durant’s dagger last night should have felt like a huge moment—here was the best scorer in the league lifting his struggling teammates and outclassing LeBron James in a Finals game—and yet the whole thing felt so automatic. This wasn’t a hero swooping in to save the day, it was a generator rumbling to life to flip the lights back on, right on schedule.
Even Klay Thompson couldn’t help but be blasé about the whole thing, cracking jokes about how Durant gave him and Curry and a “night off”:
The Warriors won 73 games and then signed the best scorer in the galaxy. Every night since then has been a night off.