EditorsNote: adds quotes from LeBron James, JR Smith and Draymond Green
OAKLAND, Calif. — When all was said and done Thursday night, Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue wishes the NBA could have reviewed the review.
“For our team to come out and play their hearts out and compete the way we did, man, I mean, it’s bad,” he said moments after the Cavaliers took a controversial, 124-114 overtime defeat against the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Klay Thompson hit a 3-pointer in OT and Shaun Livingston followed with consecutive hoops, including a backbreaking dunk, as Golden State survived a postseason-career-best, 51-point explosion from LeBron James and a scare late in regulation.
Game 2 will be held Sunday night, also on the Warriors’ home court, where they have won 38 of their 44 playoff games in the Steve Kerr coaching era.
Lue left the arena believing James’ first career 50-point playoff game should have been enough to give the Cavaliers, not the Warriors, the early edge in the series.
“It was epic, and he did enough to carry this team to a victory,” the coach said. “This is LeBron James. That’s who he is. That’s why he’s the best player in the world.
“To do what he did tonight and come out robbed, it’s just not right.”
The final minute of regulation featured a controversial video-review reversal after it appeared the Cavaliers had taken control of the game.
Following a three-point play by James that rallied Cleveland into a 106-104 lead with 50.8 seconds to go, Durant crashed into the Cavaliers star en route to the hoop and was called for an offensive foul with 36.4 seconds remaining.
However, instead of Cleveland getting the ball with a chance to put the game away on its next possession, the referees went to the replay monitor and changed the call to a block on James, giving Durant an opportunity to tie the game with two free throws. He did.
“It’s never been done, ever, in the history of the game,” Lue said of the reversal. “And then tonight, in the Finals, on the biggest stage, when our team played well, played out (butts) off, man, it ain’t right. It ain’t right.”
James added, “I thought I read that play just as well as I read any play in my career, defensively. I seen the drive, I was outside the charge line, I stepped in, took the contact. It’s a huge play. It’s a huge play.”
Durant saw it differently.
“Last year in the regular season, same play happened to me,” he said. “I knew once it was 30 seconds to go that they could review that situation.
“I knew I had my man beat and he came over late. So when they called the charge, I was surprised, but I’m glad they reviewed it.”
Referee Ken Mauer said of the call reversal, “The reason for the trigger is that we had doubt as to whether or not James was in the restricted area. When over at the table, we then are allowed to determine whether or not he was in a legal guarding position. It was determined he was out of the restricted area, but he was not in a legal guarding position prior to Durant’s separate shooting motion. So we had to change it to a blocking foul.”
James countered immediately with another driving hoop, but this time Stephen Curry responded for the Warriors with a three-point play, putting Golden State on top 107-106 with 23.5 seconds remaining.
George Hill then had a chance to be a hero for the Cavaliers, but he missed the second of two free throws with 4.7 seconds left after having tied the score.
JR Smith grabbed the rebound of the second foul shot and dribbled the ball out to midcourt instead of going for a potential game-winning shot. The clock expired and the game went into overtime.
“He thought we were up one,” Lue said.
Smith, however, maintained that he knew the score was tied.
“Tie ballgame and we had a timeout,” Smith said. “I tried to get enough space because Kevin (Durant) was standing right there. I tried to bring it out and get enough space to maybe get a shot off. I looked over at LeBron and he looked like he was trying to get a timeout. So I stopped, and the game was over.
“I’m pretty sure everybody didn’t think I was going to shoot it over KD right there. ... If I thought we were ahead, I would have just held onto the ball and let them foul me.”
Green offered the Warriors’ perspective on the sequence.
“You know, it’s good to be lucky sometimes, so I’ll take it,” Green said. “I think when he got the rebound, he probably could have laid it up. But nonetheless, that’s a part of the game, being locked in. I mean, you got to know the score. That’s just kind of basketball. You got to know if you’re winning or losing or tied.”
James hit 19 of his 32 shots en route to his 27th postseason contest of 40 or more points. It also his 109th with 30 or more, tying Michael Jordan for the most in NBA history.
However, James went 0-for-4 in overtime, and his teammates made just two hoops in the five minutes, allowing the game to get away,
While the Cavaliers missed their first five shots of overtime, the Warriors ran off nine consecutive points. Two free throws by Durant began the run.
The outcome was never in doubt after Draymond Green bombed in a 3-pointer for a 119-109 lead with 1:36 remaining, but that didn’t prevent tempers from flaring with 2.6 seconds remaining. Tristan Thompson was ejected at that point in an incident during which he pushed the basketball in Green’s face.
Kerr insisted he wasn’t surprised to see the Cavaliers, a distinct underdog in the series, put up such a tough fight.
“It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “We’re playing a great team. They’ve been to the Finals four years in a row, just like we have, for a reason. They have a guy who is playing basketball at a level that I’m not sure anybody’s ever seen before, so it’s going to be a tough series.”
After using their patented third-quarter spurt to go in front by as many as seven points, the Warriors found themselves in a 94-all tie before Green and Curry hit consecutive 3-pointers to create a six-point lead with 4:39 to go in regulation.
The Cavaliers rallied, though, eventually taking 104-102 lead on James’ final-minute three-point play.
Curry finished with 29 points, Durant 26 and Thompson 24 for the Warriors, who have now beaten the Cavaliers in Game 1 four straight years in their historic stretch of consecutive duels in Finals.
Green just missed a triple-double with 13 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists for Golden State, which is attempting to repeat as champions.
Kevin Love had a 21-point, 13-rebound double-double for the Cavaliers, who beat Golden State 4-3 in the 2016 Finals, sandwiching Warriors titles. James also found time for eight rebounds and a team-high eight assists.
“I just try to do whatever it takes to help our team win and try to be a triple threat out on the floor offensively and being able to score, rebound and get my guys involved,” James said.
—Dave Del Grande, Field Level Media