- The Cleveland Cavaliers lost Game 1 of the Finals to the Golden State Warriors in gut-wrenching fashion.
- Several times the Cavs seemed primed to take the win, but momentum swung after a controversial foul call by the referees and a baffling blunder by J.R. Smith in the final seconds of regulation.
- After LeBron James poured in 51 points in one of the best games of his career, it’s fair to wonder if the devastating loss that could have changed the series may be too much for the Cavs to emotionally overcome.
LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers might have handed the Golden State Warriors their best shot and it still wasn’t quite enough get over the hump to steal Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Major underdogs coming into the series, the Cavaliers came out composed, building an 11-point lead in the first half which the Warriors erased, with Stephen Curry hitting a deep three-pointer at the first-half buzzer to tie it, seemingly shifting the momentum.
Sure enough, the Warriors came out with a patented Warriors third quarter, building up a seven-point lead and appearing ready to take the game into their hands.
But, to the surprise of most everyone, they didn’t. Instead, the Cavaliers withstood the blows, with James remaining the steady hand, attacking the basket and hitting deep threes. Suddenly, the storm was over, and the Cavs were still standing.
That carried over to the fourth quarter, where LeBron James and his 49 points appeared to be enough to put the Cavs over the hump.
And then it all came undone.
After James muscled an and-one layup through Curry and Kevon Looney to put the Cavs up two, he appeared to take a charge on Kevin Durant on the next possession. Cavs ball.
However, the referees decided to review the play after some uncertainty over whether it was a charge on Durant or block on James. The replay led to a controversial over-turning of the call, ruling James had blocked Durant. Durant got two free throws and tied the game.
No matter. On the next play, James got yet another running layup to put the Cavs up two.
On the other end, Stephen Curry got a running layup of his own, plus the foul, to put the Warriors up 1.
In the game’s final seconds, George Hill drew a foul on Klay Thompson to go to the line for two free throws. Hill calmly made the first, then missed the second. J.R. Smith grabbed the offensive rebound, and in the blunder of his career, appeared to forget the score and dribbled out nearly the entire final four seconds of the clock with the game tied. At the last moment he tried to pass it to Hill, but it was too late to get off a clean shot.
The game went to overtime, and this time around, the Cavs could not handle the Warriors. Golden State delivered several early blows to a Cavs team that had not recovered from letting a golden opportunity slip through its fingers. The Warriors won the game, 124-114.
It’s hard to overstate what effect this may have on the Cavaliers. They played nearly a perfect game and went toe-to-toe with a vastly superior Warriors team, despite lacklustre shooting from the perimeter, and still lost.
LeBron James was the reason the Cavs had a chance. James finished with 51 points on 19-32 shooting, to go with 8 rebounds and 8 assists. It was one of the most masterful performances of his career. He powered his way to the basket and showed deft touch from deep. He was engaged defensively and helped control the pace. His assist total would have been higher if not for some missed open looks from three by his teammates, though on a stage like the Finals, that’s not unexpected.
One gets the feeling that a loss like this may take the air out of James’ balloon. The Warriors played well, but not their best. There’s a good chance they will play better in Game 2 and clean up the defensive mistakes that kept the Cavs in the game.
James can’t go for 50 points on 59% shooting again, and if he can, it will defy even the loftiest expectations for the best player alive.
And logistically, the Cavs’ path is more difficult now – they would have to win four games in six tries.
Game 1, from the outside, looked like the type of deflating loss that can send a team spiraling. The Cavs have proven otherwise before; they came back from a 3-1 deficit to win the 2016 Finals. But that was against a lesser Warriors team and with a more talented supporting cast around James.
For James to have one of the greatest performances of his career, only to have a near-series-changing win slip through his fingers, raises more questions about the team surrounding him and his future in Cleveland.
The Cavs still have time to rally, but it’s fair to wonder if Game 1 was their best shot and how much they have left in the tank to come out with same fight in Game 2.
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