It was an exciting game, one that featured 15 lead changes and 17 ties. But in the pivotal moments where the game hung in the balance, the Warriors were able to capitalize on their opportunities as they took a 1-0 lead in the 2018 NBA Finals.
Steph puts on a show
After addressing questions about why he hadn't yet won a Finals MVP yet, Stephen Curry came out in Thursday night’s game playing like someone who was looking to win one. Curry scored 29 points in the Game 1 victory, while also handing out 9 assists and grabbing 6 rebounds.
Curry did much of his damage from beyond the arc, going 5-for-11 from three-point range. One of those made three-pointers came seconds before halftime, which he knocked down to tie things up at 56 after one half of play.
Curry’s offensive impact was vital down the stretch. With Kevin Durant struggling, Curry became the best offensive option for the Warriors.
Here, Curry gets Kevin Love switched onto him, going to work on the Cavaliers forward and crossing him up before nailing the three-pointer to extend the Warriors lead.
Late in the game with the Warriors trailing, Curry got three points the old fashioned way, making the circus-style driving layup and then adding on the free throw to give the Warriors a one-point lead.
If Curry continues to play at this level and the Warriors get three more victories, then reporters might not be asking him questions about having not won a Finals MVP anymore.
A command performance by the King
While Curry played exceedingly well and led his team to the win, LeBron James put in one of the greatest individual performances in NBA Finals history in Game 1. James scored 51 points in Game 1, the fifth-highest point total by one player in NBA Finals history (and the most in a loss).
The Warriors had no answer on defense for James, who could drive to the basket at will while also making plenty of shots from three-point range. Even if Andre Iguodala had been able to play, the Warriors still might not have been able to slow James down. That’s how unstoppable he was in Game 1.
The Warriors will have to play better defensively throughout the series as well as doing better on the glass (they were out-rebounded 53-38 and gave up 19 offensive rebounds to the Cavaliers) if they want to defeat this James-led Cavaliers team.
Make no mistake, the Warriors are going up against one of the greatest players in the history of the game in LeBron James. He is going to be a very tough man to deal with, even if the Warriors play better on defense. On Thursday night, James reminded everyone watching that a dominant performance from him can be enough to (nearly) get a victory.
Thompson’s toughness shows
One scary moment for the Warriors came early in this game as Klay Thompson and J.R. Smith chased down a loose ball. Smith slipped and fell into the back of Thompson’s legs, causing the Warriors’ All-Star guard to twist his left leg very hard before falling down. In visible pain and limping, Thompson went back into the Warriors’ locker room and many thought his Finals might be over.
However, Thompson returned to the Warriors’ bench and re-entered the lineup in the second quarter. What looked like a very nasty injury was ruled a left lateral leg contusion and he was able to return to action. Thompson scored 22 points in the rest of Thursday night’s game, going 5-for-8 from three-point range.
It will get lost in the shuffle with James’ remarkable performance and the exciting way the game ended, but Thompson quietly played in a very gutsy and important game that allowed the Warriors to get the win.
The pivotal foul call
Even before the closing seconds, this first game of the 2018 NBA Finals was already very exciting. Every time one team seemed to have an advantage, the other one battled back and tied things up as the game went back and forth.
With the Cavaliers up two in those closing seconds, the Warriors got the ball to Durant who drove into the lane to try and tie the game. Durant drew contact from both Jeff Green and James.
Initially, the referees called a very dubious offensive foul on Durant. However, once consulting with replay to see if James was in the restricted area, the officials saw enough evidence to overturn the call and change it to a blocking foul on James and gave Durant two free throws, which he made to tie the game.
It was a very important moment in the game, but ultimately the correct call to make as James was not set when he came into contact with Durant and he was turned slightly, things that prevented it from deserving an offensive foul.
Through their official Twitter feed, NBA officiating clarified what happened in that sequence and why the officials were able to overturn the initial call made on the court with replay.
Replay Review (Callahan): if LeBron James was in the restricted area, as well as in legal guarding position, after he drew an offensive foul on Kevin Durant in Q4 of #CLEatGSW. Ruling: Overturned to blocking foul, James was not in legal guarding position.— NBA Official (@NBAOfficial) June 1, 2018
Clarity on blk/charge review: The trigger is that if in the last 2 minutes of the 4th or overtime officials have doubt whether the defender was in the restricted area. While reviewing, they may also confirm if the defender was in legal guarding position when the contact occurred.— NBA Official (@NBAOfficial) June 1, 2018
J.R. Smith’s blunder
With the Cavaliers trailing by one point with less than 20 seconds left to go, George Hill drew a foul on Thompson and went to the free throw line. Hill, who joined the Cavaliers as a result of their many trade-deadline deals, made the first free throw. However, Hill missed the second and Smith secured the rebound for the Cavaliers.
Rather than going up for a shot, Smith dribbled the ball out of the paint to the perimeter, only to have time expire before the Cavaliers could get a shot up, thus allowing the game to reach overtime.
What appeared to happen was that Smith thought the Cavaliers had the lead and that he should run out the clock. This was what Smith seem to indicate to James and the rest of his teammates in the moment and was confirmed by Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue.
However, in his postgame comments Smith offered a different explanation.
JR Smith: "I was trying to get enough to bring it out to get a shot off. I knew we were tied, I thought we were going to call timeout. If I thought we were ahead, I'd have held onto the ball and let them foul me."— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) June 1, 2018
It will be interesting to see how this affects the Cavaliers as a team going forward. But the combination of Hill missing that second free throw and Smith not doing the smart thing after securing that rebound cost the Cavaliers a victory. The Warriors were more than happy to take that opening and steal a game they’d probably thought they had let slip away.
The Livingston-Tristan-Draymond dust-up
In the overtime period, the Warriors dominated the Cavaliers 17-7 to earn the ten-point victory in Game 1. But in the closing seconds of the game, with the outcome all but decided, there was some extra drama.
Shaun Livingston took a shot with the twenty-four second clock about to expire and a few seconds left on the game clock.. Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson took issue with Livingston trying to score more points (as opposed to taking a turnover, something that Warriors head coach Steve Kerr constantly preaches against). Thompson fouled Livingston hard on the play, so hard that he earned a flagrant-2 foul that ejected him from the game.
As he was leaving the court, Thompson got into a back-and-forth with Draymond Green. Eventually, Thompson pushed the ball into Green’s face and shoved the Warriors’ forward.
Things got chippy at the end of Game 1 pic.twitter.com/zpOb2dv2cH— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) June 1, 2018
Green responded (although he didn’t throw a punch or strike Thompson at all) and there was much posturing and trash talking from both teams. Thompson was finally forced from the court. Because he did not exit in a timely manner after his initial ejection, Thompson could potentially be suspended for Game 2, stretching an already-thin Cavaliers team even thinner.
But this provided an emotional and exciting end to an exciting first game of the 2018 NBA Finals. The series resumes with Game 2 on Sunday evening at Oracle Arena and we can only hope it’s as exciting as Game 1.
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