George Hill couldn’t sleep Thursday night. He just kept watching the free throw he missed with the score tied and less than five seconds remaining in regulation over and over again.
“It was one of the worst feelings ever,” the Cleveland Cavaliers guard said Friday.
He blamed himself. That free throw might have sealed a win over the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. But he knew, too, it was time to move on.
“I have great teammates who have been in my ear,” Hill said, “even last night and this morning, telling me to forget about it, continue to just focus on the next game and don’t let it linger.”
The Cavaliers began to pull themselves out of the haze of a brutally disappointing overtime loss, one that came despite a historic 51-point performance by LeBron James. They began the work of moving on to Game 2, which they’ll play at Oracle Arena on Sunday.
As they did that, they realized something: They now know how to beat these Warriors. And the Warriors, who felt lucky to emerge victorious, knew that too.
“Listen, we’re not broken, all right?” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “We lost a game. You’ve got to win four in the series. We understand that. It was a tough game for us. We played well enough to win, but we didn’t. Now we’ve got to move on. The guys’ confidence is not shaken. We’ll see what we need to do and how we need to perform to win. We have the blueprint, so now we have to execute at a higher level.”
The Warriors winning Game 1 was anticipated. In fact, few experts expected the Cavaliers to put up much of a fight, if any at all. Many, bored by a fourth straight matchup between Cleveland and Golden State, expected a dull and predictable triumph by the Warriors, who won two of the previous three and swept two games against the Cavaliers this season.
But if Game 1 didn’t shatter that preconceived notion, it at least dented it.
“We came into this series knowing what we’re up against,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “… Everybody else was saying it’s going to be easy. We weren’t the ones. So I hope the media got a wake-up call.”
The Warriors got outrebounded 50-33 in regulation, grabbing only four offensive rebounds through four quarters. Kevin Love and Larry Nance Jr. notched double-digit rebounds for the Cavaliers.
“The glaring weakness on film was our lack of aggression on the boards,” Kerr said. “That’s something we’ve got to clean up.”
One lapse in rebounding nearly cost the Warriors the game. After Hill missed the free throw that would have given Cleveland a one-point lead with 4.7 seconds left in regulation, Warriors star Kevin Durant was in position to grab the rebound, but Cleveland’s JR Smith got it. But Smith blundered, running out the clock rather than trying to get the Cavaliers a shot for the win.
James got the Cavaliers open looks but they struggled to make them. Kevin Love made one of eight shots from three-point range, Jeff Green made one of six threes and Jordan Clarkson missed all three of his long-range attempts.
The Warriors should be without sixth man Andre Iguodala again — Kerr called him doubtful with a bruised leg. Klay Thompson, who injured his left ankle, should be ready for the Warriors in Game 2, but will be sore when he does.
“I’ve done that injury plenty of times,” said Thompson, who played 45 minutes and scored 24 points in Game 1. “But luckily we have a couple days between games so I’ll be able to get right.”
James’ performance gave the Cavaliers the chance to steal Game 1. Lue was asked if he thinks James can play any better.
“I hope so,” he said, laughing. “I know that’s asking a lot. But we need him to lead by example, being aggressive, attacking the basket. … He did that last night, and he has to keep it up.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli