They had to weather a storm from LeBron James in regulation and needed a ludicrous sequence of events to force overtime, but it was the Golden State Warriors on top 124-114 at the end of an overtime thriller in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
James finished with a Finals career-high 51 points and seemed to poised to deliver a series-opening win at Oracle, but a mind-boggling decision from J.R. Smith cost the Cleveland Cavaliers a chance to break a 107-107 tie. The Warriors cruised in overtime, opening with a 9-0 run and cruising until a skirmish between Tristan Thompson and Draymond Green brought the game to an ugly end.
Before all of the scoring, silliness and skirmishes, the series was nearly altered in the first quarter when an awkward run-in with Smith caused a significant injury scare for Thompson. After limping to the locker room in visible pain, Thompson was able to return soon after and finish with 24 points, third behind Steph Curry (29 points) and Kevin Durant (26).
The Cavaliers looked ready to take a significant lead into halftime that might have protected them from the Warriors’ famed third-quarter surge, but that surge came early. The Warriors erased an 11-point deficit in less than six minutes to end the first half, punctuated by a 38-foot buzzer beater from Steph Curry that tied the game at 56-56. Funnily enough, that buzzer beater pushed the total score up enough to carry heavy gambling implications.
The Warriors started where they left off in the second half, jumping ahead to a 68-61 lead, but a 7-0 run where James provided every single point kept the Cavaliers in it. The teams continued to trade haymakers down to a final minute with a pair of bizarre plays that turned the tide for the Warriors.
First, a charge on Durant was turned into a blocking foul on James, then J.R. Smith posted one of his finest J.R. Smith moments. After George Hill missed a free throw that would have given the Cavs the lead, Smith rebounded the ball and inexplicably dribbled it to the perimeter until a horrified James pointed him to the basket. James was too late, and regulation would end tied at 107-107. After the game, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said Smith thought the Cavaliers had the lead.
The Warriors quickly put the game away in overtime, and will now enter Game 2 on Saturday, Sunday (AEST) with a 1-0 series lead.