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Kevin Durant: ‘We don’t want to play with the gods like that’

Mindful of history, Warriors want to close out Cavaliers on Friday

CLEVELAND — Kevin Durant finally turned off the frustrating game film of Game 4 of the 2017 NBA Finals at about the same time the sun rose on June 10. The Golden State Warriors would defeat LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers one game later at home to win the championship. Even so, Durant and the Warriors have not forgotten the lost opportunity to sweep the Cavs in their building.

“Every mistake we made they capitalized on last year,” Durant said. “I watched the film over and over until 5 in the morning in Cleveland. Every mistake. Missed boxout. Three. Point switching. We didn’t come together on [defensive] switching. Slip. Dunk. We’re not pressuring the ball. Someone would come up and shoot a pull-up 3.

“That is the kind of stuff that we can’t have, especially with a team that is desperate. They’re going to find any little crack to play through. We’ll see.”

Almost a year to the day of last year’s Game 4 loss, Durant and the Warriors can redeem themselves if they sweep the Cavaliers on Friday night. The reigning NBA champions earned that opportunity by taking a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Finals over host Cleveland with a 110-102 victory in Game 3 on Wednesday night. If the Warriors sweep the Cavs, it will be the first time an NBA team has gone winless in the Finals since a young James and the Cavaliers fell to the 2007 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.

While the Warriors enjoyed a great party in Oakland, California, after winning the title in five games last year, Durant does not want to play with fire. The NBA All-Star, who is averaging 31.7 points in the Finals, would prefer to grab the broom than to give the all-world James an opportunity to make more history. No NBA team has ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit in the Finals. Do not forget that James and the Cavaliers overcame a 3-1 series deficit over the Warriors to win the 2016 NBA title.

“We don’t want to play with the gods like that,” Durant told The Undefeated. “We want to come out here and play our best game and just respect the game. Everybody has that mindset. I’m not worried about that. We want to come out, respect the game and try to win this thing.”

Durant put the Warriors in position to sweep by scoring a playoff career-high 43 points on 15-of-23 shooting from the field, missing just three of nine attempted 3-pointers, grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing 7 assists. It was undoubtedly one of the greatest performances in Finals history, one in which Durant put his team on his back. No other Warriors player, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson included, scored more than 11 points or made more than five field goals. Durant, shooting like Curry, nailed a record four 3-pointers from 30-plus feet.

The biggest Durant 3-pointer came with 49.8 seconds left to give the Warriors a 106-100 lead. As the Cavaliers called timeout, a silent Durant slowly walked while staring at the opposing crowd as teammates Curry and Draymond Green screamed in excitement for him.

“You could hear a pencil drop,” Green said.

Asked who he was staring at, Durant said: “I don’t remember. I was in a daze. I can’t believe that s— went in.”

Thompson yelled, “Déjà vu!” while heading to the locker room after the win. He was referring to Durant’s clutch 3-pointer during the Warriors’ 118-113 victory over the host Cavaliers in Game 3 of last year’s Finals.

The 2017 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player nailed a 3-pointer with 45.3 seconds remaining in last year’s Game 3 to give the Warriors the lead at 114-113. Golden State would hold on for a momentum-switching victory and 3-0 series lead. A billboard-sized picture of Durant’s 3-pointer would later be hung in the team’s practice gym.

The Warriors don’t want the déjà vu of losing in Game 4. The Cavaliers had the hottest first quarter in Finals history last year, scoring a record 49 points. Cleveland also sank a Finals-record 24 3-pointers and shot a franchise postseason record 59.8 percent from the field in Game 4.

Like Durant, Curry has not forgotten that loss.

“We know how they came out in Game 4 last year,” said Curry, who has won two NBA titles with the Warriors. “They are going to try to do the same thing in the first quarter and more on Friday. We have to weather the storm, keep it close. They scored 49 points in the first quarter of Game 4 [last year]. You’re not winning any game like that. They had 30 rebounds through three quarters.

“I want to go home and celebrate. … It’s been a long year. I want a [championship].”

Then-Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving led all scorers with 40 points on 15-of-27 shooting in Game 4 of the 2017 Finals. Durant described Irving as a “certified killer” offensively. And the Warriors are ecstatic that Irving, now with the Boston Celtics via an offseason trade, won’t be suiting up in this year’s Game 4.

“We have to be locked in,” Green said. “They had Kyrie then, too, but we learned from it.”

The Warriors celebrated their 2015 NBA championship on the Quicken Loans Arena floor, but it took them six games to do it. While the Cavaliers are now a long shot to win the Finals, expect James and company to show pride and fight for respect on Friday night. Instead of being sleepless from watching game video after a Game 4 loss, Durant hopes to be sleepless from celebrating a second NBA title and perhaps a second Finals MVP trophy.

“They are going to come out with a flurry,” Durant said. “The crowd is going to be into it. LeBron is going to try to will them to victory. [Cleveland’s] Rodney Hood played great [Wednesday night], so he is going to build off of that.

“We’ve just got to come out with a good game plan. On the defensive side, we’ve got to get into the ball, talk and rebound. If we do those things, we will put ourselves into good position.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.