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NBA Finals notebook: Irving rises up, falters at the end

CLEVELAND -- Much had been made about the need for the Cavaliers role players to make an impact in the Finals. But down 2-0, they had an even more urgent need for their offensive superstar, Kyrie Irving, to start playing like one.

Irving hadn't been awful. He's averaging 21.5 points in the first two games against the Warriors. But he hasn't been the same Irving who was often unstoppable earlier in the playoffs, and whose heroics -- including the series-winning three-pointer -- helped them to the title a year ago.

There were numerous reports Wednesday that Irving has been suffering an injury to his surgically repaired right knee. He hurt the knee in the playoffs two years ago, knocking him out of the Finals.

If Irving was hurting, you wouldn't have known it in Game Three. Irving was sensational. He scored 38 points, 16 in an electric third quarter, but it wasn't enough as the Warriors closed on an 11-0 run to beat the Cavs, 118-113, and take a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.

Irving had been sruggling on his signature forays into the lane against a tough Warrior defense, but was back on his game in a big way. At one point, he was 12-for-12 on shots in the paint, many on acrobatic drives to the basket with either hand.

But when Irving had the ball in his hands with 30 seconds left and the Cavs down, 114-113, he settled for a step-back jumper instead of a drive. He clanked it off the rim. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said later that he wished his players had been more aggressive at the end.

"It's definitely tough," Irving said. "Hurts. We did some great things tonight, but they made some big-time plays. I'll probably be replaying that last play for a while. I'm human. To lay it all on the line like that, you want to come out on the winning side."

LeBron James had said the Cavs needed to get their young gun going early in Quicken Loans.

"I think he does a great job of it," James said. "But it's just some of the sets that we call. You can put him in position to be successful, and we  just try to lay bodies on his guys that are guarding him. If he's open, get him the ball on time, on target, and let his talent take over from there."

The talent is undeniable. Irving, a four-time All-Star and 2016 Olympian, averaged a career-high 25.2 points this season. He was a force in Cleveland's title run last year, averaging 30.0 points in the Cavs' four wins in the Finals and nailing that game-winning three in the finale.

"Whether I have the ball in my hands or not, an impact needs to be made on the game," Irving said Tuesday. "And that's where that stands.

"They're throwing a lot of bodies at me," he said. "Definitely not allowing me to play in some comfortable positions that I'm used to. They have the ability to take away some angles that are there for a split second, but if you don't take it at that moment, it can very well close up."

Irving took advantage for much of the night. Late in the third, he made successive driving hoops, giving the Cavs a 94-87 lead, their biggest of  the series to that point. He made a dazzling three-point play on a drive to make it 108-102 late in the fourth.

It wasn't enough. He was there for his team in a crisis. But in the end, he came up a little short. As he said, he'll think about that last shot for awhile.
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Draymond Green was asked Tuesday about Magic Johnson's assertion that the great Lakers teams of the 1980s would sweep the Warriors in a series. Green chuckled and said, "That's my thoughts."

Of course, the voluble power forward is seldom content to answer in a few words. Green elaborated further on the subject of whether the great teams of the past (including the Jordan Bulls) would beat Golden State.

“It can never happen," Green said. "First off, the game is completely different than it was back then. Nowadays, if you can’t shoot a three, you’re a liability on the floor. That wasn’t the case back then.

"So I never understand when people try to compare eras and say, ‘Oh, this team could have beat this team’ or 'They couldn’t have beat that team.’ It doesn’t make sense because you’re kind of talking two different games. So Inever really understand that, nor do I get off into it. They were great in their time, we’re great in our time and respect that.”

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James might have all the NBA playoff records before he's finished. He passed Michael Jordan for career playoff scoring in Game Five of the Eastern Conference finals. He entered Wednesday's game with 6,052 career playoff points.

Now he's taking aim on the NBA Finals scoring record. James went into Game Three with 1,136 points in the Finals, seventh all-time. By halftime, he had scored 27 points and already moved up three spots on the list -- waseight behind Sam Jones, 16 back of Bill Russell and 26 shy of Elgin Baylor heading into the night.

James needed two points to catch Jordan. Jerry West leads with 1,679 points in the Finals.

James also needed to make eight foul shots to pass Jordan for the most in playoff history. He made five. They're only numbers, but anyone who wants to make the case for James as the best ever has more ammunition.

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Golden State's 15-game winning streak breaks a tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins' 14-game post-season win streak from 1992-93 as the longest playoff streak among the four major sports, according to the Elias Sports Bureau ... Durant had 33 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, five blocks and three steals in Game Two. It was first time a player had those figures in a playoff game since steals and blocks were first recorded in 1973-74 ... Steph Curry is looking to become the third player to average 25 points in a postseason (minimum five games) while shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the line. Kawhi Leonard turned the trick this year and Larry Bird did it in 1986.

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