June 1, 2018, 12:54 am
J.R. Smith had the chance of a lifetime. He squandered it with a gaffe that could haunt he and the Cleveland Cavaliers forever.
The Golden State Warriors beat the Cavaliers 124-114 in overtime on Thursday night, withstanding an all-time performance by LeBron James to take a 1-0 lead in the NBA Finals. It wasn’t easy for the defending champions in Game 1, though. They needed help to avoid losing home-court advantage, and got it at the perfect time, under circumstances that will live in basketball infamy for decades to come.
With just over four seconds left in the fourth quarter of a game Golden State led 107-106, James found George Hill cutting to the rim unencumbered with a one-handed bullet pass. Rather than cede an easy two, Klay Thompson grabbed Hill as the ball came his way, sending the Cavaliers point guard to the free throw line. After swishing the first of two freebies, knotting the score, Hill came up short on his second attempt. The ball caromed right over Kevin Durant and into the hands of Smith, who could have put it right back up from six feet, passed to an open James at the top of the key or called the Cavaliers’ last remaining timeout.
Instead, the notoriously eccentric veteran frantically dribbled toward halfcourt, content to hold the ball until James alerted him of reality. “I thought we were ahead,” cameras caught Smith telling his Hall-of-Fame teammate after the buzzer sounded, sending their underdog team to overtime against a juggernaut, on its home floor in the opener of the NBA Finals.
The play that decided Game 1. pic.twitter.com/e1UeOv57Rn
— ESPN (@espn) June 1, 2018
No one possession wins or loses a game. The Warriors deserve this victory every bit as much as the Cavaliers. Curry had 29 points, six rebounds and nine assists. He shot 5-of-11 from beyond the arc, including a 35-footer that tied the score as the second-quarter clock expired. Kevin Durant struggled to find hit jumper at times, but still finished with 26 points, nine rebounds, six assists and three blocks. Klay Thompson scored 24 points on 16 shots, and Draymond Green stuffed the stat sheet with 13 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists, five steals and two blocks. Golden State got several solid contributions from its role players, too, most notably Shaun Livingston and Kevon Looney, the former of whom was perfect from the field en route to 10 points off the bench.
Still, several game-changing trips down the court in crunch time make it hard to believe that Cleveland, if just one more play went its way, wouldn’t have left Oracle Arena with perhaps the most surprising victory of the 2017-18 season. Smith’s blunder will never be forgotten, but the Cavaliers might not have been in that situation altogether if the officials had given them a more favorable whistle.
While driving on Curry with 5:53 left in regulation, James was supposedly stripped clean by Looney; replays later showed contact on the arm as the Warriors big man swiped at the ball. Five minutes and 17 seconds later, James stepped in front of Durant at the rim after he blew by Kevin Love on the perimeter, yielding a 50-50 call initially whistled as a charge. Following a lengthy review, however, a blocking foul was assessed to James, and Durant tied the game at the line with 36.4 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Then, on the first possession of overtime, Durant was awarded two more free throws after a clean swipe down by George Hill, confirmed by television replay, was again ruled in favor of the reigning Finals MVP.
There were multiple times down the stretch when the Warriors could have been called for a foul on shot attempts by James, too. Not that anyone could fault them for playing him extra aggressively; Golden State had no other answer. James scored 51 points, the fifth-most in Finals history, dished eight assists and grabbed eight rebounds. He made 11 of his first 13 shots, initially pushing his team to an early lead and later stemming the tide of the Warriors’ seemingly inevitable third-quarter onslaught. After the Cavaliers fell behind by six entering the final stanza, James brought them all the way back to multiple leads in its final minutes with 13 points, three rebounds and three assists.
He was everything Cleveland needed him to be and more in Game 1. It’s not a stretch to say James was better than he’s ever been in the Finals, a ledger that now spans nine trips, 11 years, four head coaches and two teams. Still, it wasn’t enough to beat the Warriors.
— NBA (@NBA) June 1, 2018
Golden State will be better going forward, but optimists have ample reason to believe the Cavaliers will be, too. Kevin Love had 21 points and 13 rebounds in his first game back from a concussion, but missed several makable looks from the opening tip to overtime. Hill scored just seven points, four more than Kyle Korver. While Jordan Clarkson can’t be counted on, he can certainly shoot better than 2-for-9 – or perhaps not take that many shots at all.
And Smith, of course, could simply realize circumstances of time and score in the biggest game of the season. But he didn’t, and Cleveland falls behind 1-0 in the Finals as a result. Here’s hoping James and the Cavaliers play well enough to put themselves in a similar situation at some point over the next three games, replicating the drama of Thursday night – which was heightened by a flare-up between Tristan Thompson and Green in the latter stages of overtime.
Yet zooming out, it’s hard to believe Cleveland will get an opportunity again in this series like the one Smith so blatantly botched. Oracle Arena might be basketball’s biggest home-court advantage, and its occupants are heavy favorites for reasons too long to list. Even worse? The Cavaliers have to win in Oakland to beat the Warriors, and just lost a game in which James, a one-man band, put on a show for the ages.
May 29, 2020, 6:03 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is reporting that the NBA is planning for a Board of Governors vote on Thursday, during which they are expected to approve Adam Silver's proposal for re-starting the season in Orlando.
The trend lines are all moving in this direction, and this adds another bullet point on the schedule as the league prepares for launching games on July 31. Adam Silver has been able to bridge any divides between ownership and the players, and has been taking into account all his key constituent's views as we approach approval of a plan for moving forward. We still have plenty of items to resolve before we see game action, but the NBA is gaining momentum as these details come into place.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 4:44 pmBradley BealSG, Washington Wizards
On Friday, the Wizards resumed holding voluntary workouts at their practice facilities.
The Wizards have joined a chorus of teams that are returning in limited capacities to their facilities at this point. The NBA as a whole is continuing its march towards the resumption of play with a target date of July 31 now established. The District of Columbia also entered phase one of reopening today, and it makes sense for the team to proceed on a similar trajectory.
Source: Candace Buckner on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 4:03 pmJulius RandlePF, New York Knicks
Part of the Knicks' off-season thinking is to shape the roster around RJ Barrett, and it unclear where Julius Randle will fit in those plans.
Barrett and Randle have similar offensive styles, as they typically have an advantage relying upon their strength to attack the basket, but neither has a component deep ball at this stage in their careers. As Barrett is the younger option it makes sense that the Knicks want to sign shooters to give him more space to operate with. Randle's lousy percentages and turnovers has made for a disappointing season with the Knicks thus far, and Barrett will also need to make some strides in the shooting department to become a 12-team asset. Randle is under contract for next season is owed at least $4,000,000 in 2021-22.
May 29, 2020, 3:46 pmJayson TatumSF, Boston Celtics
On Friday, the Celtics' announced that their practice facilities would reopen on June 1.
That leaves us with four NBA teams without access to their facilities. Things are beginning to accelerate throughout the league as teams ramp up activities in hopes of resuming competition in Orlando on July 31. So far so good, but the NBA still has many hurdles to overcome on the path to resuming the season.
Source: Celtics PR on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 3:40 pmRJ BarrettSF, New York Knicks
The Knicks reopened their practice facility for voluntary workouts on Friday.
Another step in the right direction for the NBA's return to action at the end of July. It's still unclear if the Knicks will even be involved in whatever plan is agreed upon, but it is good to learn that the players can now access their facilities in New York. Only five team facilities have not opened up in some capacity at this point.
Source: Knicks PR on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 3:15 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
On a call with the Board of Governors on Friday, Adam Silver and the league office confirmed July 31 as a target date for the resumption of the NBA season, according to a report from Shams Charania.
We have to imagine that this is just one of the possible options on the table, as the league still has much to figure out. Charania adds that the league has four scenarios for the return: 16 teams move directly to the playoffs, 20 teams engage in group/stage play, 22 teams have games to determine seeding with a play-in tournament, and all 30 teams reconvene for a 72-game season with a play-in tournament. It's seemed unlikely that we'll have a full 30-team return given the stated priorities for player safety. There are still tons of logistical hurdles to clear but the NBA is getting its ducks in a row for a potential return.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
May 27, 2020, 9:06 pmAndre IguodalaSF, Miami Heat
Andre Iguodala returned to South Florida after living in California since the NBA season was suspended.
Iguodala returning to the market where his team is could mean that he believes team workouts will begin soon. However, there is no official timetable on when team workouts will begin and Jimmy Butler has yet to return to Miami.
Source: Ira Winderman on Twitter
May 27, 2020, 7:52 pmZach LaVineSG, Chicago Bulls
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported that the Bulls were cleared by the Governor of Illinois and are in talks with city officials to open practice facilities on Friday for voluntary workouts that would follow the NBA guidelines.
The NBA's guidelines currently state that a maximum of four players are allowed in the facility at any given time and there can only be one player per hoop. The Bulls are currently eight games behind the Orlando Magic for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls may not play again this season given how far behind they are in the standings and the recent reports of proposals to not continue the regular season.
Source: K.C. Johnson on Twitter
May 27, 2020, 7:08 pmLuka DoncicPG-SF, Dallas Mavericks
Marc Stein of the New York Times has reported that the Mavs plan to open their practice facility on Thursday.
This news would make the Mavs the 23rd team to have their facilities open for "voluntary and socially distanced player workouts". Continue to monitor the wire as we should learn more about the potential of the league resuming in early June.
Source: Marc Stein on Twitter
May 26, 2020, 10:07 pmKawhi LeonardSF, Los Angeles Clippers
On Tuesday afternoon, AmicoHoops reported (via Twitter) that an unidentified NBA GM told them the league has seriously discussed resuming the current NBA season on Wednesday, July 22.
Nothing has been officially announced, by any means, and this is the first we've heard of specific target date(s) from anyone. It's looking like the continuation of the season will occur in Orlando at Walt Disney World at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, which has accommodations for at least some of what the NBA has planned for a resuming activity. As we have relayed numerous times recently, the next week or two seem to be a likely window for some decisions from Adam Silver and Co. at the NBA league office to start to come down. Stay tuned, hoops fans.
Source: AmicoHoops on Twitter