Cleveland, Ohio: Cleveland reeks of defeat. And of hopelessness. As fans file out of the Quicken Loans Arena late at night on Wednesday, realisation dawns on the city that the 2018 NBA Championship has probably slipped out of grasp and the 0-3 deficit they face against the Golden State Warriors may be insurmountable even for their beloved Cavaliers, despite the near-miracle of winning the title in 2016 after being 1-3 down still fresh in the memories of Clevelanders.
The sun doesn't go down in Cleveland till late in the night this time of the year, and neither does the level of enthusiasm of the city's faithful, not when the Cavs are in the NBA Finals. So it was understandable that the Cavaliers fans walked into Game 3 of the NBA Finals bullish with self-belief despite the literal and metaphorical clouds which hung over the city and its most successful team.
Throughout the week, "Go Cavs" has been as much a rallying cry for the fans as a greeting exchanged between strangers. The slogan has been ubiquitous here, appearing from bumper stickers on cars to display windows of local businesses. It may take more than that to stir a fightback from the Cavaliers now.
Perhaps this defeat will be more bitter to digest than Game 1, where the team lost in overtime and despite a 51-point performance from LeBron James. Both games were close affairs. But losing on home court after restricting the opponents' two best players, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to just 11 and 10 points on the night, rankles, as JR Smith admitted in the post-match press conference.
What was more heartening on the night for the home side was that the Cavs support cast — branded as the worst LeBron James has pulled through to the NBA Finals in his career -- finally showed some signs of life.
As the game began, the Cavs had raced away to a 14-4 lead before the Warriors had time to get their eye in.
With the indefatigable Kevin Love scrapping, rebounding, hustling and swishing three-pointers like his life depended upon it, and Smith starting Game 3 like a man speeding down the road to redemption after his disastrous brainfade in Game 1, the Cavs ended the first quarter 29-28. They had a healthy lead almost all through Q1, but the Warriors are not the defending NBA champions for nothing.
It was a quarter which set the tone for the rest of the game. It was also a quarter which saw Draymond Green yelling his head off in frustration after being called for a foul. The more he screamed, the louder the Cavs fans jeered the man who left James with a red eye after Game 1. That would remain the theme for most of the game.
Meanwhile, the home side started to put daylight between themselves and the Warriors by the second quarter, leading 42-34 with just over six minutes left in Q2. At half-time, their lead was 58-52.
Love had racked up 15, one more than even James at that stage. Smith, with an average of 8.4 points in playoff matches this season, had 10 in just the first 24 minutes. Curry, on the other hand, had two points at this stage.
But the celebrations in the arena were muted. The third quarter, the bastion of the Warriors in the playoffs, soon saw them take the lead for the first time in the game with just under 10 minutes left. The Warriors ended Q3 with just a two-point lead at 83-81, which seemed to embolden the Cavs as the home side came roaring back into the lead with just over nine minutes left in the game.
Love ended the night with 20 points against his name while Smith added 13. Rodney Hood chipped in with 15 points. But all their efforts were dwarfed by Kevin Durant's 43 points on the night -- a deflating experience for any rival team.
Before Wednesday's game, James averaged 34.6 points, 9.2 rebounds and nine assists a game in the playoffs. Wednesday saw him score a triple double with the 11 assists and 10 rebounds complimenting his 33 points on the night.
But he summed up the mood in the city with a single quote.
"For me, tonight will be tough. Tomorrow I'll replay some plays and some moments. But the rest of the night will be tough. I'm not sure what time I'll end up getting to bed. Tomorrow we'll come in and watch film, so it will replay in my mind throughout the day."
It won't be surprising if this defeat plays on the minds of Cleveland fans for months to come.
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Updated Date: Jun 07, 2018 17:00:56 IST