One game does not make a series. BUT if Game 1 of the NBA Finals match up between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the four such meeting in four years at this stage, is any indication, then we are in for a treat of a series. Ahead of tip-off, virtually no one had the Cavs coming anywhere near defeating the Warriors and stopping their third NBA Title in four years. Now, the tune could be changed just a little. We at least COULD have a competitive series on our hands. Unfortunately, it could have been much more competitive if not for Cleveland letting some chances slip through their fingers.
First and foremost, this looked like a classic from the very start. Both teams went toe-to-toe with each other in the first two quarters, with both teams winning a quarter by a single point. That took them to the break at 56 apiece, setting up for a compelling second half of action, something few would have guessed given that Vegas had the Warriors as massive favorites in both the game and the series overall. Golden State put their foot down in the third quarter, but they still led by only six at that interval. Cleveland, on the back of 51 points total from LeBron James, would rally back and even had a chance to win it.
But the play happened. What it will be called down the years is still yet to be determined, but there is little to no doubt that it will be remembered right along with the butt fumble, Bill Buckner booting the ball, and Leon Lett’s early celebration. The controversy surrounds J.R. Smith, but it shouldn’t all but put on him. Not all of it. But most of it, yes. Finding themselves two down, George Hill was at the free throw line for two shots. He would sink the first shot, tying the game at 106. With 4.7 second remaining, the Warriors would have had a decent chance to win it had it made it, but still it was a great chance for Hill to win it for them nonetheless. He would miss.
And the hoopla only started there. Somehow J.R. Smith came down with the fortuitous rebound. In a way that only LeBron could, he had positioned himself on the arc, wide open. Like he knew it would happen that way. Smith, either not realizing the score at the time, or just in shock that he had rebounded a free throw, dribbled backwards toward half court before finally throwing it to Hill, who had to rush just to get a desperate heave off. That sent the game into overtime, and the Warriors would dominate to win Game 1 by a score of 124-114 after stomping on the throats of the Cavs from the first minute of the extra period. Smith and that play had taken the life right out of them.