NBA Finals Game 1
Golden State Warriors 124, Cleveland Cavaliers 114 (OT)
Series: Golden State leads, 1-0
Next game: Sunday, 8 p.m. ET | TV: ABC
James’s 51 points can’t overcome a truly bizarre chain of events
OAKLAND, Calif. — The NBA Finals tipped off Thursday with Commissioner Adam Silver addressing assembled media, saying his league is about “celebrating greatness.”
“That’s what you’re seeing on the floor here,” Silver added.
In Golden State’s 124-114 overtime victory in Game 1, greatness was indeed celebrated — and a memorable mistake by Cleveland’s J.R. Smith was immortalized — in a game that delivered on the hype of the fourth straight Finals meeting between the Warriors and Cavaliers.
Ultimately, LeBron James’s 51 points, a career playoff high, were not enough to save Cleveland in overtime. Add in his 19-for-32 shooting and his eight rebounds and eight assists, and it still wasn’t enough.
The problem for James — and the rest of the Cavaliers — is that he’s facing one of the greatest teams in the history of the sport. And for all of the greatness James put on display Thursday night, it was the strength and depth of Golden State’s star-studded roster — plus some ill-timed brain-lock from Smith — that allowed Golden State to prevail.
The key sequence came with 4.7 seconds left in regulation, with Cleveland trailing 107-106. A great pass from James to a cutting George Hill resulted in a foul, sending Hill to the line for two free throws. But after making the first free throw, Hill missed the second, and Smith grabbed the rebound, giving Cleveland a chance to get a final shot.
Instead, Smith — seemingly thinking Cleveland was ahead instead of tied — dribbled all the way out to half court, letting the final four seconds run off the clock as all 19,596 in attendance — not to mention the players on the court — stared at him. The buzzer sounded, the crowd at Oracle Arena exhaled, and James turned to Smith and quite clearly seemed to ask him what, exactly, he was thinking.
“We got lucky,” Golden State Coach Steve Kerr said.
Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue said that, watching Smith react in the moment, the guard clearly thought Cleveland was winning, and therefore he was dribbling the clock out.
“He thought it was over,” Lue said. “He thought we were up one.”
But the score was tied, and overtime beckoned. And the extra five minutes were not close, with Golden State scoring overtime’s first nine points and never looking back.
Smith was asked multiple times after the game, and he stuck to this explanation: “I was trying to get enough to bring it out to get a shot off. I knew we were tied; I thought we were going to call timeout. If I thought we were ahead, I’d have held onto the ball and let them foul me.”
Afterward, it was clear just from seeing the mood outside of the Cavaliers’ locker room — and the looks on the faces of Lue and other members of the Cavaliers organization — how exasperated and disappointed Cleveland was after letting this game slip through its grasp.
Cleveland knew coming into this series that its chances of making this a long, competitive one were slim. Doing so would require, at minimum, coming into Oakland and winning one of these first two games, allowing the Cavaliers to go home with some momentum.
For more than 47 minutes, Cleveland did all it could to put itself in that position. But then, in those final 4.7 seconds of regulation — between Hill’s missed free throw and Smith losing track of the score — all of that hard work fell away.
It was easy to hear in Kerr’s voice how fortunate he felt that Golden State survived. And it was clear from their play in overtime that the Warriors felt the same way.
Giving a team like Golden State a second chance is never a wise move. And in those extra five minutes, the Warriors quickly took over, scoring the first nine points of overtime to grab a 116-107 lead.
After Cleveland finally got on the board with a Jeff Green tip-in, Draymond Green followed with a three-pointer — his second of the game after going 2 for 17 from behind the arc in the seven-game Western Conference finals against Houston — to seal the victory for Golden State.
But that didn’t mean the theatrics were over. After a block by James on a Stephen Curry drive with 34.1 seconds remaining, Curry kept jawing at James for the next 20 seconds as play continued at the other end of the court — to the point where James shoved Curry away from him, though that didn’t stop him from yapping.
By that point, the result was a formality. Behind 29 points, six rebounds and nine assists from Curry and 26 points, nine rebounds and six assists from Kevin Durant, Golden State knew it would prevail.
But as Curry and James jawed, the Warriors wound up with the ball. As Shaun Livingston went up for what would have been a meaningless jumper, Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson fouled him, earning a technical foul from referee Tony Brothers.
Then, as both teams milled around, Draymond Green began talking to Cavaliers players and clapping his hands, leading Thompson to hit Green in the face with the ball and possibly his hand. After the players were separated and there was a lengthy replay review — including Curry and James continuing to talk to each other with their mouths covered — Thompson was given a flagrant 2 foul and was ejected.
So much for this series, in its fourth iteration, being a boring repeat with nothing to talk about. It only took 53 minutes of game action Thursday for that to change.
“Everybody has been saying it’s going to be easy,” Kerr said. “It isn’t going to be easy.”
And while James’s greatness nearly gave Cleveland the upper hand, Golden State’s overall greatness — plus some help from Smith — tipped the scales in the Warriors’ favor.
The game’s greatest star — and perhaps the greatest player it has ever seen — has powered the Cavaliers into the lead, scoring seven of Cleveland’s 10 points as part of a 10-2 run over the past three and a half minutes to make it 104-102 with 50.8 seconds left.
After driving and kicking to Jeff Green for a three on the prior possession, James powered through Kevon Looney for an and-one bucket with 50.8 seconds left to give Cleveland back the lead. James now has 47 points on 18-for-27 shooting, seven rebounds and eight assists. Incredible.
LeBron James is having another insane game, now with 44 points, six rebounds and eight assists in 38 minutes.
Unfortunately for him, he’s going up against one of the greatest teams of all-time, and maybe the only one that can stop him from winning on this night.
Golden State leads 100-94 with 4:37 remaining after back-to-back three-pointers from Draymond Green and Stephen Curry, both of which sent the crowd into a frenzy. James has been tremendous so far, but it’s going to take a special close from him and the Cavaliers to pull this one off.
LeBron James just keeps on coming. And the Cleveland Cavaliers have a shot to steal Game 1.
James now has 38 points and eight assists after hitting Kyle Korver for a three-pointer to make it 89-88 Golden State with 8:52 remaining. Kevin Love is the only other Cleveland player in double figures with 16 points, but Cleveland has managed to hang in this game as the Warriors have gotten very little from anyone other than Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
This is the formula Cleveland wants these games to follow: Keep it close until the final minutes, then try to have James win the game.
The Cavaliers have done the first part. Now James will try to do the latter.
The JaVale McGee minutes were, as expected, a roller coaster.
McGee at times looked decent, getting a couple of buckets at the rim and staying in front of LeBron James on one possession. He also gave up a three-pointer by failing to close out to a shooter, and then nearly a second one when he got beat on a dribble move by James, who then kicked out to George Hill in the corner for a missed three.
But then McGee couldn’t handle one pass from Stephen Curry, and did … this on another.
Warriors Coach Steve Kerr has gone to JaVale McGee to start the second half at center, in place of Kevon Looney, after Golden State was destroyed in the first half on the boards.
McGee won’t help much there, but he is the team’s best lob threat offensively, and has a couple of quick buckets here early in the second half to help Golden State retake the lead.
Cleveland has, predictably, attacked him repeatedly offensively, but so far Golden State has survived.
A popular criticism heading into this year’s NBA Finals is that people are bored with seeing the Warriors and Cavs go head-to-head.
But is anyone saying that after the first half of Game 1?
A wildly entertaining half that saw LeBron James score 24 points on 9-for-11 shooting and Stephen Curry score 15 – including ending the half with a 30-footer at the buzzer – ended with the Warriors and Cavaliers knotted at 56, and with plenty of drama along the way.
Klay Thompson exited and then returned to the game after what looked like an ugly leg injury, Kevin Durant added 14 points (but went 5-for-12) and Larry Nance, Jr. made an instant impact off the bench with eight points and seven rebounds for Cleveland.
One thing to watch in the second half: Golden State is being dominated on the boards, as Cleveland holds a 25-12 edge in rebounding – including a 7-0 edge in offensive boards, which led to a 10-2 advantage in second-chance points.
Meanwhile, Golden State has – predictably – succeeded in pushing the pace, leading 11-2 in fast break points. The second half will likely come down to which of those trends holds up over the remainder of this game.
The Warriors announced Klay Thompson has a left lateral leg contusion. Oddly, the team said his return is “hopeful,” something I can’t say I’ve heard before.
Without Thompson, and with Pat McCaw still not 100 percent, that would mean a lot more of Nick Young, which needless to say, is as much a cause for concern as not having Thompson.
Yet remarkably, Thompson checked back into the game, with Golden State trailing 30-29 after the first quarter. It sure didn’t look like he would be playing again tonight after he hobbled off but here he is.
While it isn’t discussed much, Thompson is an ironman, only rarely missing any time in his career. Having him back on the court is certainly a welcome sight for the Warriors.
Still, his status going forward will have to be monitored, considering he already had a knee issue in the West finals, as well.
Meanwhile, whenever J.R. Smith — the man who undercut Thompson — gets the ball, he is hammered with boos by the home crowd here at Oracle Arena. Don’t expect that to stop anytime soon.
It took six minutes for the NBA Finals to take a potentially drastic — and significant — turn for the worse for the Warriors.
Klay Thompson saw his left leg bend in a very unnatural way after getting tangled up with J.R. Smith, who appeared to slip, when Stephen Curry tried to throw the ball ahead.
Smith immediately looked remorseful after the play, but that won’t do much for the Warriors, who are now without their all-star shooting guard. Thompson, who rarely shows any emotion, was in visible pain on the court, and after dragging himself to his feet, walked with a massive limp directly off the court, and back to the locker room with Golden State’s medical team.
Losing Thompson would, obviously, be a massive blow for Golden State. A series that was very lopsided now may be much less so.
With Kevin Love returning to the Cavaliers starting lineup, and Tristan Thompson remaining in it, that means LeBron James is starting out Game 1 of the NBA Finals guarding Kevin Durant.
The question is how long that matchup will stay in place.
Cleveland needs James as fresh as possible to continue carrying the immense offensive load he’s handled throughout the playoffs to keep the Cavaliers in this series. Guarding Durant for long stretches will make that even more difficult.
The best move for Cleveland might be to give Durant as much runway as he wants in terms of getting up shots, in the hopes of distorting Golden State’s offense the way it did at times during the Western Conference finals against Houston. Sure, there will be games in which Durant just explodes and is unguardable. But that might happen even with James on him, given how impossible Durant can be to stop.
If Durant struggles at all, and Golden State gets out of rhythm, perhaps Cleveland can turn these games into the slugfests necessary to make them competitive.
It might not work. But you know what? the Cavs are massive underdogs in this series for a reason. To win, they need to get weird and creative to have a chance.
Keeping James fresh, in exchange for throwing lesser options at Durant, might be worth trying.
Game 1: Golden State Warriors 124, Cleveland Cavaliers 114 (OT)
Game 2: Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors; Sunday, June 3, 8 p.m., ABC
Game 3: Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers; Wednesday, June 6, 9 p.m., ABC
Game 4: Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers; Friday, Jun 8, 9 p.m., ABC
Game 5: Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors; Monday, June 11, 9 p.m., ABC (if necessary)
Game 6: Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers; Thursday, June 14, 9 p.m., ABC (if necessary)
Game 7: Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors; Sunday, June 17, 8 p.m., ABC (if necessary)
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