LeBron James turned in one of the greatest NBA Finals performances in history during a losing effort in a pivotal Game 3 against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday. James scored 39 points on 15-of-27 shooting, grabbed 11 rebounds, and finished with nine assists. However, he didn’t score in the game’s final 4:28 and the Cavs are now down 3-0.
LeBron gave his team a fighting chance at home against what’s evolved into arguably the greatest talent collective in basketball history. But his effort in a crushing loss underlines just how badly the Cavs need him.
In 46 minutes with LeBron on the floor, the Cavaliers outscored the Warriors by seven points. In the two minutes he spent on the bench, Golden State ran off 12 points. That means James finished the night +7 and his team still lost by five. That stat was first unearthed by VICE’s Michael Pina.
Kevin Durant’s pull-up three with less than a minute left in the fourth was the big blow for Cleveland during a 118-113 loss. Had James been made of robot parts and played all 48 minutes without taking a rest, Cleveland may have had a chance at fending the Warriors off.
This is how important James is to the Cleveland’s functionality
The Cavaliers built a three-point first quarter lead behind LeBron’s 16 points. It was the opening everyone wanted — The King had to come out swinging from the tip-off if Cleveland was going to have a chance.
But James sat out the quarter’s final 1:49, a time nearly equivalent to an eternity against a team as explosive as the Warriors. What he saw watching from the sidelines, in all likelihood, he’ll never forget.
First Steph Curry hit a step-back three over Kevin Love to tie the game at 32. Then, he popped out for a three in transition off an Andre Iguodala feed. The Cavaliers turned the ball over twice during that stretch as the Warriors rattled off 10 unanswered points to take a 39-32 lead into the second quarter.
James only rested 35 more seconds in Game 3, but it was clear the offense was stagnant without The King on the floor.
Cleveland turned an eight-point third quarter deficit into a seven point lead with James in the game from the 11:35 mark to the 40-second mark in the third quarter. The Cavaliers failed to generate a decent look at the rim until he subbed back in with five seconds left and missed a running layup.
That’s how good this Warriors team is
Even after falling 0-3 to the Warriors, LeBron James is still considered the best active basketball player in the world. At 32 years old, he played 46 minutes in one of the most important games of his career, and he played like an all-time great outside of the final 4:28.
But the game wasn’t decided in those final moments, it was decided during LeBron’s time off the floor. After matching the Warriors tit for tat in the first quarter, the Cavaliers got plastered when James went to the bench. And after they finally rallied back and formed a sizable lead in the third quarter, they couldn’t capitalize on their momentum to end the period on a high note.
This Golden State team is really, really, really good — all-time-great good. And they proved that by taking down an all-time great’s best performance in Game 3.
This game wasn’t decided in James’ 46 minutes on the floor. It was decided in his two off. That speaks volumes for everyone who played on Wednesday.