With around 50 seconds left in regulation, Kevin Durant pulled up on LeBron James and drilled a dagger 3, a shot you’ve read about a thousand times. There was still a handful of ticks on the clock left, but it didn’t matter. The Golden State Warriors went up 3-0 on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the best-of-seven NBA Finals.
That shot that Durant made put a stamp on the game, but it wasn’t even the first time he had taken that shot in Game 3. Just past the 10-minute mark in the third quarter, Durant attempted the same shot, a pull-up 3 on James in transition. Miss.
“All I was looking at was the bottom of the net, and I seen that he was planting his heels behind the 3-point line, and I been working on that shot my whole life.”
When Durant made that shot — where James had his heels planted behind the 3-point line — it not only put the game away, it marked that last of 11 times the Cavs gave up a transition 3-pointer in Game 3.
It’s no secret that, outside of James, the Cavs don’t exactly have any formidable perimeter defenders, but losing marksmen like Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, and Durant in transition is a cardinal sin. But those things are obvious.
When you watch the Warriors play, it almost seems like their half of the court is a bit bigger. There’s room for Curry to dance in the lane, clean routes for cutters; and it’s all because of their constant 3-point threat. While most teams can stretch the court to 22 feet, where the 3-point line sits, the Warriors drag teams out further, into deep water — and it seems the Cavaliers forgot that in Game 3. The Warriors’ transition 3s didn’t just materialize because the Cavs couldn’t match up while running back on defense (though, that was a large part of it). A lot of the quick 3s the Warriors got off were because LeBron & Co. forgot that for guys like Durant, Curry, and Thompson, an open shot is any shot where you’re not in their uniform — and sometimes even when you are.
Here, Durant is getting off the same type of 3 he made with 50 seconds left in regulation. Look at James’ contest. It’s Late. The way Durant swings his feet when he shoots actually makes this shot look at little closer than it is. It’s a 26 footer. Shot after shot, the Warriors capitalized on looks like these, where, as Durant pointed out in the post-game commentary of his dagger, the Cavs’ feet lay behind the arc.
Transition shots like the ones in the photo above are a quandary when playing Golden State. Either the defender does as LeBron did here, and sinks inside the baseline, preparing for a normal — non-26-foot — 3-pointer/possible drive, which leaves them open for deep, deep 3s; or they guard too closely and risk getting blown by. Pick your positional poison. Unless Cleveland picks up Curry or Durant at the half-court line — an option the Cavs shouldn’t rule out — they are going to risk giving up a 3 or a drive.
I’m sure it’s hard overriding a lifetime of basketball instincts: getting a hand up on shooter as he’s running full sprint toward your 3-point line, or picking up a shooter at 26 feet — things you only worried about in video games, until a few years ago. But basketball has taken a light-year-sized leap in the past few years, especially when regarding the Warriors.
The Warriors made 7 of 11 transition 3s. 21 points. Many of which were defended just like the coup de grâce Durant landed. Heels behind the 3-point line, a split-second late on the contest. The Warriors had seen looks like that all night. Durant just made the last one.