Wrap-Up — The series opener of the 2018 NBA Finals was a terrific game marred by a terrible ending.
A late missed free throw, a mental lapse and a questionable call by the officials spoiled LeBron James’ epic performance and derailed what might have been a series-altering upset by the Cavaliers, who fell in a frustrating Game 1 overtime loss – 124-114 – on Thursday night at Oracle Arena.
It’s hard to pick which aspect was most painful as the Wine & Gold fell after essentially outplaying the World Champs for the majority of the evening.
The final minutes of Game 1 featured a furious back-and-forth – with LeBron James giving Cleveland a two-point edge, 104-102, after a man-sized and-1 with just over 50 seconds remaining. On Golden State’s next possession, Kevin Durant sliced through the lane but was called for a charge after plowing into James who was well outside the restricted area with 36.4 to play.
The officials stopped the game to review the play and, although it was determined that LeBron was outside the restricted area, they changed the original call to a block after determining that James was “not in a legal guarding position.”
Durant stepped up and hit a pair of free throws to tie the game.
Following the affair, Coach Tyronn Lue made no secret of his feelings on the rare reversal.
”For our team to come out and play their hearts out and compete the way we did, man, I mean, it’s bad,” lamented Lue. “It’s never been done, ever, in the history of the game. And then tonight in the Finals on the biggest stage, when our team played well, played our ass off, man, it ain’t right.”
But things got even weirder from there.
Following the officiating conundrum, LeBron scored on a driving layup to put Cleveland back ahead by a deuce. But Stephen Curry answered immediately with an and-1 on the other end, converting the free throw to give the Warriors a 107-106 edge.
But on Cleveland’s last possession of regulation, Klay Thompson fouled George Hill, sending him to the stripe with 4.7 to play. Hill canned the first free throw to tie the game, but missed the second. JR Smith swooped in to grab the rebound, but instead of shooting the ball or calling timeout, he dribbled out to the arc and passed to Hill in the corner as time expired.
”I knew we were tied, I just thought we were going to call timeout when I got the rebound,” explained Smith after the loss. “I’m pretty sure everybody didn’t think I was gonna shoot over (Kevin Durant) who was right there.”
That was all the daylight the Dubs needed – scoring the first nine points of overtime to put the game on ice.
But even then, the fireworks hadn’t subsided.
With 34 seconds to play and Golden State comfortably ahead, Curry attempted a layup that was blocked by LeBron. Cleveland’s 14-time All-Star took umbrage with the play and he, Curry and Thompson exchanged words as the Cavs scored on a JR Smith triple on the other end.
On the Warriors’ next possession, Shaun Livingston attempted a jumper and was fouled by Tristan Thompson, who was immediately tossed by Tony Brothers – with Thompson and Draymond Green exchanging words as he left the floor.
”It’ like an unspoken rule in the NBA – if you’re up 10 or 11 with 20 seconds to go, you don’t shoot that shot,” said Thompson. “But I just tried to contest and next thing you know, I’m getting thrown out for a good contest that we practice in Training Camp – ‘contest every shot.’ So I don’t know why I got thrown out.”
Lost in all this was a tremendous Finals matchup between two teams that have squared off in the title round for four straight seasons.
LeBron James continued to raise the bar on an already legendary postseason run – leading both teams with 51 points on 19-for-32 shooting, including 3-of-7 from long-range, and 10-of-11 from the stripe, adding eight boards, a team-high eight assists, a steal and blocked shot.
James became the first player in NBA history to put up 51, 8 and 8 in a Finals contest and joined Hall of Famers – Elgin Baylor, Rick Barry, Jerry West, Bob Petit and Michael Jordan as the only players to put up 50. Among that group, however, he’s the only one to do so in a losing effort.
The four-time MVP has now topped the 40-point plateau in eight contests during this postseason, including three in his last five outings.
Kevin Love was also very good on Thursday night.
After being released from the NBA’s Concussion Protocol earlier in the day, Love was aggressive from the opening tip in Game 1 – finishing with 21 points, going 9-for-20 from the floor (but just 1-of-8 from beyond the arc), adding a game-high 13 boards in the loss.
”We’ll go back to the drawing board tomorrow – we’ll look at film, we’ll get our bodies right,” said Love after the loss. “Saturday, same kind of thing, and be ready to go Sunday. But it’s just an unfortunate and tough way to walk away from here tonight. We felt like we could have had that one.”
The only other Cavalier to finish in double-figures was JR Smith, who pitched in with 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting, including 2-of-6 from long-range.
Larry Nance Jr., making his Finals debut, looked like he’d been doing it for years – chipping in with nine points on 4-of-6 shooting to go with 11 boards in just under 20 action-packed minutes of work.
The Warriors’ big three of Durant, Curry and Thompson combined for 79 points – with Curry’s 29 leading the way – and Draymond Green finished one assist shy of a triple-double.
Still, the Wine & Gold dominated Golden State on the boards, 53-38, and especially on the offensive glass, 19-4. The Warriors outran Cleveland on the break, 28-18, but trailed in second-chance scoring, 21-10. Steve Kerr’s squad handed out 31 assists to the Cavaliers’ 18 and committed just eight turnovers compared to a dozen by the Cavaliers.
Turning Point — It’s not easy to pinpoint the turning point in a game that featured 17 ties and 15 lead-changes.
The Warriors even looked like they would blow things open early with their third-quarter barrage – opening the second half with a 10-3 run. But the Cavaliers answered immediately and stayed within striking distance for the remainder of regulation.
But the end of regulation is where things came apart for Cleveland.
After the insanity of the game’s 48th minute, the Cavaliers were never the same in the extra-session. Golden State scored the first nine points of overtime before Jeff Green got the Cavaliers on the board with a tip-in. But Draymond Green drilled a triple on the Warriors’ next possession to give them a double-digit lead and enough breathing room to pull away for the controversial Game 1 win.
By the Numbers – 33.8, 11.9, 9.1 … LeBron James’ scoring, rebounding and assist averages in 19 Finals contests against the Warriors – with five 30-point games, six 40-point games and Thursday night’s 50-point masterpiece in the mix.
Quotable – LeBron James, on the questionable, critical blocking call against him with 36 seconds to play in regulation …
”I read that play just as well as I’ve read any play in my career, maybe in my life. I saw the play happening. I knew I was outside the charge line, and I knew I took the hit. I don’t know what else to say.”
Up Next — The 2018 NBA Finals roll on, with Game 2 slated for Sunday night (6/3) at 8 p.m. before the series returns to Cleveland for the next two – with Game 3 taking place on Wednesday (6/6) at The Q and Game 4 going down two nights later (6/8) – both 9 p.m. starts. From there, it’s back to the Bay for Game 5 the following Monday (6/11) at Oracle Arena with Game 6 back in Cleveland on Thursday night (6/14). Should these two familiar foes go the distance, Game 7 tips off the following Sunday, June 17 at 8 p.m.