It’s over. I know, it’s not technically over. That said, it’s over.
I’m not sure how you could come up with any other thought as the final buzzer sounded last night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Sure, when watching the Golden State Warriors seize a 3-0 series lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers, you might’ve leaned on memories of 2016. “They came back from being down 3-1,” Cavs fans may think, “why couldn’t they come back from being down 3-0?”
Those eternal optimists may base these lofty hopes on the fact Cleveland finally hung with the Warriors last night, just barely losing as opposed to getting run out of the gym. If anything, though, last night’s defeat was actually proof another miracle likely isn’t around the corner. If the grim reality we teased through Games 1 and 2 hadn’t set in yet, the Cavs are certainly realizing it after last night.
Simply put, there’s nothing they can do. Cleveland’s season will likely come to an end on Friday, and the overall feeling is the players are helpless to stop it.
Yes, the Cavs played their best game of the Finals last night. They grabbed a second half lead for the first time all series, and held onto it all the way until the final minute of the game. LeBron James was otherworldly, with Kyrie Irving right there alongside him. The Warriors were seconds away from looking human for the first time in months.
Then they went on an 11-0 run and won the game. They showed you the most damning proof that, despite even Cleveland’s best effort, they can’t be stopped. Golden State simply has too much firepower, so much that all the Cavs’ biggest counter-punch did was result in their losing by five instead of 20.
As a Cleveland fan, how can you not watch all of this unfold and not feel an overwhelming sense of hopelessness? The Cavs losing by single digits is now seen as their biggest accomplishment of the series. They’ve been forced to try and pick which of Golden State’s two MVPs they’d prefer to be burned by. Every lead they’ve built up, no matter how big, has been evaporated before you have time to soak it in.
It all just forces you to realize how powerless Cleveland is in preventing another Warriors title.
There are no Cavs blowout victories coming in this series. No watching the Warriors get too cocky and allowing Cleveland to catch them off guard. No glaring weak spot to be found in Golden State that the Cavs can exploit en route to four straight wins.
Nothing Cleveland has done is working. A haphazard effort in Game 1 led to a loss which was decided by midway through the third quarter. The Cavs tightened up the defense in Game 2, putting forth the kind of “grind it out” effort which helps you steal a win. They lost by 19.
Then there was last night. On a night where James and Irving scored 77 of Cleveland’s 113 points, putting forth dueling monstrous performances the likes of which would send most opponents running for the hills, it wasn’t enough. The Cavs’ stars were visibly gassed by the end of the game, and nobody else was lending much of a helping hand. Kevin Durant‘s dagger three made James and Irving’s night a footnote, and also served as the death knell to Cleveland’s season.
If you’re in the Cavaliers locker room, how do you not watch all of this and think “what can we do?” You get the sense the Cavs can’t win unless literally every player who touches the court plays flawlessly. Normally, when someone is playing poorly – looking at you, Tristan Thompson – you can come up with ways to hide him and still pull out a win. Frankly, there’s really only one team in the NBA you could face that would make such a strategy ineffective.
Unfortunately, said team is the one which just put Cleveland into a 3-0 hole.
This isn’t to sound as though I’m disappointed in the Cavs. Golden State is a war machine, able to take the slightest mistake and use it to build a ten-point lead in the blink of eye.
At the same time, watching this series knowing there’s simply nothing Cleveland can do to win is borderline depressing. I’m sure the Cavs themselves would agree.
They haven’t played poorly. They’ve had hiccups, sure. But you can’t chalk this 3-0 hole up to Cleveland not playing well enough. You chalk it up to the Cavs putting forth a solid effort and it being deemed irrelevant.
They now have to try to be perfect once again on Friday. However, there’s a good chance that, even if they can do so, it won’t matter.