CLEVELAND (Ohio) • LeBron James had stuffed another play-off game full of his usual brilliance. He scored. He passed. He rebounded. He defended.
After two lopsided losses to start the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals, the Cavaliers fell in line behind him as they spent much of Wednesday evening fending off the Golden State Warriors.
It was basketball at its best. Both teams exchanged ferocious blows. Both teams responded. But in the final minute, James found himself in an unusual position - helpless.
He could only watch as Kevin Durant of the Warriors sank a three-pointer over the top of him, one final jolt from which the Cavaliers could not recover.
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The Warriors kept their air of invincibility intact with a 118-113 Game Three victory that puts them on the brink of their second championship in three seasons.
"I don't want to relax," Durant said. "It's not over."
His three-pointer with 45.3 seconds remaining was the go-ahead basket as the Warriors scored the game's final 11 points.
7 of 11
Points he scored in the Warriors' late 11-0 run, the biggest of them a three-pointer with 45 seconds left to put Golden State ahead at 114-113.
Average points he scored in all three games of the NBA Finals.
It was a stunning display of offensive pyrotechnics that dovetailed with the Cavaliers' late-game collapse, a disheartening result that almost felt unfair, unjust and undeserved. The crowd at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland shuffled to the exits in disbelief.
"We thought we were going to win," James said. "We had an opportunity."
He collected 39 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, and Kyrie Irving added 38 points - and, still, it was not enough. Not against the Warriors and their assemblage of world-class talent.
Durant finished with 31 points. Klay Thompson scored 30 points, and Stephen Curry had 26 points and 13 rebounds.
As this best-of-seven series moves to Game Four, scheduled for Friday night (tomorrow, Singapore time) in Cleveland, the only question left seems to be whether the Warriors can become the first team in NBA history to finish the play-offs 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 have ever rebounded from a 3-0 series deficit to win the championship.
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.
The Warriors entered the game mindful of what had happened against the Cavs in Game Three of the Finals last season.
After losing the first two games of the series, the Cavs came out and crushed the Warriors by 30 points at home - a startling result that gave them new life.
They went on to win their first championship in seven games.
"I think we're better from our experiences," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
"It wasn't our smartest game that we played all year, but it was maybe our toughest."
He would have been thrilled by Durant, who was Golden State's biggest prize in the off-season, and the forward showed exactly why the Warriors were so keen to get him.
Cleveland led for most of the second half and looked ready to hand the Warriors their first loss of the play-offs.
But Durant's three-point dagger over James was precisely the type of play the Warriors must have had in mind when they signed him last July in hopes of avenging their NBA Finals loss to the Cavs last year.
"I've been working on that shot my whole life," said Durant, who has averaged 34 points through the first three games of the Finals.
"To see that go in, that was liberating, man. We've got one more to go."
NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
Game 4, Cleveland v Golden State: Singtel TV Ch110, tomorrow, 9am