OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry scored 29 points and the Golden State Warriors capitalized on a Cavaliers blunder that sent the game into overtime, withstanding a brilliant 51-point performance by LeBron James to beat Cleveland 124-114 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.
The game nearly over, James jawed with both Curry and Klay Thompson, then Tristan Thompson and Draymond Green tangled moments later and made contact. After replay review, Tristan Thompson received a Flagrant 2 foul and ejection with 2.6 seconds left.
James was in utter disbelief as regulation ended in stunning fashion: George Hill made the first of two free throws with 4.7 seconds left after being fouled by Klay Thompson, but when J.R. Smith secured the rebound of the second, he dribbled back toward halfcourt instead of shooting, apparently thinking the Cavs had a lead.
“He thought it was over. He thought we were up one,” coach Tyronn Lue said.
And why not? Both these teams were pushed to their limits in seven-game conference finals they each had to win on the road.
Game 2 is Sunday night back at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have won 18 of their last 19 postseason games. In 2015, when the Golden State beat the Cavs to capture the franchise’s first title in 40 years, the first two games of the series went to OT — Golden State winning the opener and Cleveland Game 2.
James shot 19 for 32 to go with eight assists and eight rebounds in the opener of his eighth straight NBA Finals and ninth overall, as well as Cavs-Warriors Take IV. James notched his eighth 40-point game during this playoff run to tie Hall of Famer Jerry West’s feat in 1965 for most in a single postseason.
James drove past Curry for a three-point play with 50 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. But James was given a foul following a review with 36.4 seconds left and Kevin Durant converted a pair of free throws to tie it at 104. The call had initially been a charge on 2017 Finals MVP Durant and James protested the change.
Lue was disgusted to lose this way, saying of the call being overturned with James outside the restricted area, “It’s never been done, ever in the history of the game.”
“It was great, it was epic and he did enough to carry this team to a victory,” Lue said. “…To do what he did tonight and to come up robbed, it’s just not right.”
Durant struggled with his shot but wound up with 26 points on 8-for-22 shooting and nine rebounds.
Golden State got a serious scare when Thompson went down after Smith slid hard into the Splash Brother’s left leg at the 6:17 mark of the first quarter. Thompson lay grimacing in pain then went to the locker room with what was called a bruised left leg that needed re-taping. He returned for the start of the second quarter to huge roars from the yellow-clad sellout crowd and scored 24 points. He and Curry each connected on five 3s.
Curry drained one of those way-out-there 3-pointers that have been hard to come by this postseason to beat the halftime buzzer and Golden State shot 13 for 36 from deep.
Kevin Love returned from a concussion to provide a big boost for Cleveland with 21 points and 13 rebounds.
The Warriors missed the defensive presence of 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, who missed his fifth straight postseason game dealing with a bone bruise in his left knee.
Cavaliers: James has 109 career 30-point games in the playoffs, tying Michael Jordan for most ever. … Cleveland held a 19-4 advantage on the offensive glass, getting seven offensive rebounds in the first half to the Warriors’ none. … James’ first quarter: 4 for 4 with a 3-pointer, 12 points, three assists, a steal and turnover.
Warriors: Curry’s early three-point play gave him the free throw he needed for 379 to pass Rick Barry (378) for first place on the Warriors’ career list. … With his 293rd career 3 in the playoffs, made in the second quarter, Thompson passed Kobe Bryant (292) for sixth place on the NBA’s list for postseason 3s. … Kevon Looney started again in place of Iguodala, but coach Steve Kerr went to McGee after the break. … Home run king Barry Bonds was in attendance.
Lue is being treated for anxiety, saying before Game 1 that the pressure-packed playoffs bring him so much joy.
Lue took a leave of absence on March 19 for health reasons and when he returned April 5 acknowledged he experienced “piercing” chest pains during two games this season.
“A lot of people are going through a lot of different things. Just being able to cope with it and understand that there’s a lot of different people that have reached out since yesterday, I guess, and told me they experienced some of the same things,” Lue said. “The biggest thing is that I feel good and talking to my doctor one of my happy places is the playoffs. That’s a good thing. So I do feel great, though.”