OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — LeBron James defied belief with another brilliant playoff performance and was in utter disbelief at teammate J.R. Smith and the officials about key plays down the stretch that sent the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 124-114 loss to Golden State in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.
James posted the first 50-point game in the finals since Michael Jordan did it 25 years ago and had the Cavaliers in position to stun the heavily favored Warriors in the opener before Smith’s blunder turned the tide in Golden State’s favor.
James finished with 51 points and had the Cavaliers in position to win when his pass down low to George Hill drew a foul on Klay Thompson with 4.6 seconds left and Cleveland trailing 107-106. Hill hit the first shot to tie the game but missed the second.
Smith secured the rebound but dribbled to half court, thinking that Cleveland was leading the game. James was calling for the ball that entire time and could only hold his arms out in shock before walking back to the huddle for overtime.
The Warriors then scored on their first possession of overtime when Durant drew a foul from Hill that upset James once again and never looked back, outscoring Cleveland 124-114 in the extra session.
The game ended with James jawing with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and then teammate Tristan Thompson getting ejected for a flagrant foul when he hit Draymond Green with the ball.
There were several calls down the stretch that angered James. He appeared to make a clean strip on Keven Durant that was called a foul and then he was visibly upset when he didn’t get a call on a drive on the other end.
Then after James drove past Stephen Curry for a three-point play that put Cleveland up 104-102 with 50 seconds left, he appeared to draw a charge on Durant. But officials went to the replay and changed the call to a block.
James answered with an impressive drive, changing hands in midair before scoring to give the Cavs the lead. But it wasn’t enough when Curry answered with a three-point play and Smith made his blunder.
The opener of the fourth straight finals between these teams followed a familiar script with the deeper Warriors overcoming a sensational individually effort by James the way they did in winning the past two titles.
James had his highest-scoring playoff game ever, tied Jerry West for the most 40-point games in a single postseason with eight and almost single-handedly led the Cavs to the win.
He made 19 of 32 shots, added eight rebounds and eight assists and played nearly 48 minutes for a third straight game.
But the lasting image of this game will be of James calling for the ball behind the 3-point line as Smith dribbled out the clock in a play reminiscent of one made by Dallas’ Derek Harper in a playoff loss to the Lakers 34 years ago. (AP)