Before Wednesday’s Game 3, a confident LeBron James shot down any thought that having to defend Kevin Durant was “taking a toll” on him.
“I’m averaging a triple-double in the (NBA) Finals,” James responded. “I’m pretty good.”
To be sure, the Cleveland Cavaliers star has stuffed the stat sheet in these NBA Finals. But numbers don’t lie, and what the numbers also show is the exact opposite: Durant has managed to wear down the King.
The Golden State Warriors forward took over down the stretch in Game 3, scoring 14 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter. With 45 seconds remaining, he delivered the dagger: a pull-up 3-pointer directly in front of James that helped seal a huge road win and put Golden State up 3-0.
Lest you think Durant getting buckets on LeBron is an anomaly, consider this eye-opening stat:
Not only has Durant done well when James is guarding him, he’s been most effective this series with the superstar forward checking him: Durant is shooting 53 percent this series when guarded by players not named LeBron, compared to 62 percent when LeBron guards him.
Not that James is a subpar defender — far from it. Durant is one of the best scorers in the game and has the luxury of playing alongside two of the greatest shooters in NBA history in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. James shoulders a far greater load for the Cavs than Durant does for the Warriors, and as much as the superhuman forward will tell you he’s fine, all of that effort wears you down.
Again, to the stats:
James has averaged an incredible 41 minutes per game this postseason, the most of any player besides Paul George, whose summer vacation started after just four games. There are other factors to his steady decline in scoring efficiency as the game goes on — when teammates like Kyrie Irving get on a late roll, James looks to get them shots instead of creating his own — but fatigue must be considered in the equation. Just ask Warriors forward Draymond Green, who said point-blank after Game 3 that James was gassed.
And while James has struggled to find offense late in this series, Durant has done just the opposite, scoring 31 fourth-quarter points on 67 percent shooting to James’ 11 points on 36 percent shooting.
To reiterate: It’s hard to expect much more from James, who is averaging a ridiculous 32 points, 12.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists in this series. But the stats show pretty clearly that Durant and the Warriors are winning the arms race — a fact that even LeBron himself reluctantly admitted after Game 3.
“I’m drained right now, both mentally and physically,” James said, via Yahoo! Sports. “… It’s the most firepower I’ve played (against) in my career.”
Thumbnail photo via David Richard/USA TODAY Sports Images