Cleveland Cavaliers 114 Golden State Warriors 124 - NBA Finals Game 1 Report
There is a penchant in American Sports for seminal moments to be given a name to last the ages. In American Football we have had the "Immaculate Reception", "The Catch" and "The Drive". If Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals are to be remembered in history, then it should forever go down as "The BrainFart". With LeBron James suspending belief for almost 48 minutes, scoring 51 points and single handedly dragging his Cleveland Cavaliers team to the brink of a huge upset win over the overwhelming favourite Golden State Warriors, it would be his team-mate, JR Smith who would provide the defining moment of the game. WIth less than five seconds remaining, George Hill found himself at the free throw line with two shots to put the Cavs ahead. He sank the first to level the scores at 107-107 but missed the second. As the ball spun into the air it was grabbed by Smith, but inexplicably he elected to dribble away from the basket to allow the clock to run out, despite the exhortations of his bewildered team-mates. One can only assume that he thought Hill's first shot had put Cleveland ahead, despite his claims afterwards. In fact the game entered Overtime where Golden State eased away to win 124-114 "I just thought we were going to call a timeout. Because I got the rebound, I'm pretty sure I couldn't shoot it over KD, (Kevin Durant) Smith told reporters after the game. "If I thought we were ahead, I would have just held on to the ball so they could foul me. Clearly that wasn't the case." His coach Tyron Lue was one of those unconvinced by Smith's claims. "He thought it was over. He thought we were up one," he said in his post-match interviews. There was little sympathy for Smith, but heaps for LeBron James. Appearing in his 8th straight NBA FInals series, the man who is regarded as the greatest player of all time, and who has, at times, single-handedly dragged this club through the season left his post-match press conference refusing to answer questions about Smith's gaffe, insisting his team just needed to "be better tomorrow". It would be difficult for James to be better tomorrow himself. He produced a vintage display which was one of the greatest in NBA Play-Off history but ended up falling short due to the lack of quality around him. He contributed almost 45% of his team's points and was on the court for 48 of the 53 minutes played. Only Kevin Love and the unfortunate Smith managed to score double digits on a night where the Warriors team of all talents outlasted Cleveland, eventually easing away in overtime. Before those incredible final few seconds, the previous 47 minutes had been compelling viewing with Cleveland giving as good as they got against a lineup containing Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, just part of a team widely considered as being potentially one of the best in the history of the game. Despite being 13 point favourites, the Warriors did not have things all their own way as the bookies expected. The openign quarter was a nip and tuck affair with each side matching each other basket for basket. Klay Thompson had to leave the court in the early stages after he fell awkwardly after JR Smith slipped underneath him. However his replacement Jordan Bell contributed enough to keep the Warriors in touch as Cleveland's starters produced an excellent opening 12 minutes to lead by 30-29. If the Cavaliers were to have any chance they needed to be in front at the half, as Golden State are renowned for their blistering third quarters, and for much of the second period it looked as if Cleveland were indeed going to go into the interval with a decent lead. When Kevin Love hit a 15 foot jumper with just over 5 minutes remaining in the 2nd period, the Cavs led by 11 but that was just the signal for the Warriors to rally. Thompson and Curry made back to back threes and when Durant hit another trey a couple of minutes later, Golden State were back within three. Cleveland edged back in front and led by three going into the final possession of the half, but as happens so often Steph Curry nailed a running jump shot as the clock expired to give the Warriors the momentum going into the second half, tying the scores at 56-56. In fact the third quarter explosion that was expected never happened as Cleveland dug in and didn't allow Golden State to take control of the game. The Warriors had blown apart the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference finals with successive 3rd quarter runs that had taken the game beyond their opposition. But a LeBron James inspired Cleveland side proved to be a much stronger proposition. Despite the Warriors coming out and opening up a 7 point lead in the first three minutes of the 3rd the expected avalanche did not transpire. Instead James scored his teams next 12 points as they chipped away at the Warriors lead, to tie the game with three minutes of the quarter remaining. However Golden State regained a measure of control ending the period with a 9-3 run to enter the final 12 minutes with an 84-78 lead. The Cavs had cut the lead to just 1 point when there was a moment of controversy as Kevin Durant was adjudged to have been fouled by LeBron when it appeared the Cleveland man had stripped the ball cleanly from the Warriors man. It would not be the only officiating call that would go against the Cavs in the 4th quarter. Moments later, LeBron was fouled himself, only for the call to go against him again with the refs calling it as a strip and the Warriors broke away to add another couple of points. With just under 3 minutes left, LeBron dunked his 44th point of the game to close the gap to two, leaving the Oracle Arena crowd, known as one of the loudest in the league, strangely quiet. There was almost silence when with just 50 seconds left, James drove to the basket to score whilst being fouled to put the Cavaliers ahead, with the extra free throw by two. It was on the next possession that saw controversy take centre stage as Durrant drove to the hoop, only to meet the body of James as he went up to shoot. The initial call was an offensive foul against Durrant, but the referees went to the video screens to check the call. The question was if LeBron was in a legal guarding position before Durrant went up for the shot, and on review the call was changed, giving the Warriors a couple of free throws. It was a decision that rankled the Cavs, the commentators and everyone not of a Warriors persuasion. Durrant hit both to tie the game. James and Curry exchanged buckets on similar drives to the hoop but critically Curry was fouled as he sunk his, netting the free throw to go up by one and set up the last seconds of drama which thrust JR Smith centre stage. Overtime was an anti-climax, the Warriors easing away with the Cavaliers visibly stunned by the ending of regulation. Whilst it was the result that everyone expected, Golden State will certainly have been given fair warning that this will not be the breeze to the title that most people were expecting, although it will be interesting to see how Cleveland respond to this body blow in Game 2 which tips off on Sunday night.
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