LeBron James sat on stage wearing the suit jacket and suit shorts in which he’d entered the arena. He was agitated. His answers were clipped. He knew this was one the Cleveland Cavaliers should have had.
“Tonight we played as well as we’ve played all postseason,” James said. “And we gave ourselves a chance possession after possession after possession. There were just some plays that were kind of taken away from us. Simple as that.”
The final score shows a double-digit win for the Golden State Warriors, but the Cavaliers pushed them to the brink of an unthinkable Game 1 loss Thursday.
Ultimately, the Warriors prevailed in overtime 124-114 in a tightly contested matchup that saw both teams’ stars shine, trade daggers and then jaw at each other in the game’s final seconds. The Warriors are in their fourth consecutive Finals against the Cavaliers and Golden State has won Game 1 every time.
James contributed 51 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, with 49 of his points in regulation. Only six players in NBA history have scored 50 or more points in an NBA Finals game. James is the only one whose team lost the game.
Stephen Curry led the Warriors with 29 points while Kevin Durant scored 26 with nine rebounds and six assists.
The game went to overtime after Cleveland’s JR Smith ran out the clock following an offensive rebound. James screamed at Smith on the court after the play, and Smith appeared to tell him he thought the Cavaliers were leading, not tied at 107.
In his postgame news conference, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said Smith thought the Cavaliers were winning.
But Smith had a different story.
“I knew we were tied,” Smith said. “I thought we were gonna call timeout because I got the rebound. Pretty sure no one thought I was going to shoot over [Durant]. If I thought we were ahead I would’ve just held onto the ball for them to foul me. Clearly that wasn’t the case.”
“I would never give up on JR,” James had said earlier in the news conference. “That’s not my MO. I don’t give up on any of my players, any of my teammates.”
James’ frustration was about more than that final play in regulation.
The Cavaliers traded runs with the Warriors in a first half that felt largely inconsequential, due to both teams’ penchants for late-game heroics. Cleveland took an 11-point lead in the second quarter, even going on a 7-0 run with James on the bench. But Golden State steadily closed the gap.
As the halftime buzzer sounded, Curry sank a deep three-pointer. He counted off with his fingers the three points he’d just scored, and then wagged his tongue in celebration. That shot tied it at 56.
The Warriors had a rather mediocre third quarter by their standards. They outscored opponents by 18.5 points per 100 possessions in the third quarters of games this season, but Cleveland trailed by only after three quarters.
The Cavaliers even took the lead in the fourth quarter and James tried to will his team to another victory, this one the most improbable of them all.
James scored five points in the game’s final minute to keep pace with the Warriors, and he attempted to take a charge that would have won Cleveland an extra possession while leading by two. He stepped in front of Durant and drew the whistle he wanted.
Officials changed it from a charge to a blocking foul upon review.
Had that call gone the Cavaliers’ way, they might have avoided the opportunity for Smith’s blunder. Instead, the game went to overtime, where the Warriors took control.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr called it a lucky win in some ways.
“Sometimes you need a little luck,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “It’s good to be lucky sometimes.”
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