LeBron James gave it everything he had, repeatedly willing the Cleveland Cavaliers back into the game and even putting them in position to win in regulation, but the Golden State Warriors found their offense in overtime and walked away with an unsettling 124-114 victory in Game 1 of the N.B.A. finals on Thursday.
All the talk coming into the game had been about this being one of the largest mismatches in finals history. The Warriors would be running out a lineup full of All-Stars against a Cavaliers team that relied far too heavily on James. But proving that the games are played for a reason, the Warriors barely survived at home despite getting 29 points from Stephen Curry, 26 points from Kevin Durant and 24 points from Klay Thompson.
Each of the Warriors stars had their moments, but none could compare to the incredible performance by James, who had a personal-postseason-best 51 points in 48 minutes.
James, who used an enormous physical advantage to dominate on both ends of the court, contributed eight assists and eight rebounds to go with his eighth game of this postseason scoring 40 or more points. He endured a vicious poke to the eye from Draymond Green, and there was seemingly nothing Golden State could do to slow him down as he repeatedly brought his team back from what seemed like the brink of disaster.
Unfortunately for James, not all of his teammates were quite as locked in as him. In the final seconds of regulation, with the score tied, J.R. Smith was able to get an offensive rebound of a missed free-throw by George Hill, but seemingly unaware of the score he dribbled into space, effectively running out the clock.
“No, I knew it was tied,” he said. “I thought we were going to take a timeout because I got the rebound. I’m pretty sure everybody didn’t think I was going to shoot it over KD right there.”
Regardless of his knowledge of the score, the enormous mistake wasted what looked like a plum opportunity to steal a road win from a team that has been accused of ruining the game with its sheer dominance since Durant came in as a free agent. It also left James with nothing to show for one of the best games of his career.
Asked what adjustments the Warriors could make to slow down James going forward, Coach Steve Kerr, as he often does, made light of the situation.
“We held back a lot of strategy tonight,” he said to a chorus of laughs. “We’ve got so many things up our sleeves. We’re going to shut them down next game.”
But even with James doing anything he wanted, and Kevin Love looking like a worthy second fiddle as he contributed 21 points and 14 rebounds in his first game since being cleared from the concussion protocol, it still seemed as if the talent-deep Warriors would run away with the game after making their typical second-half adjustments.
Curry tied the game with a buzzer-beating 38-footer at the end of the first half — one of three shots he hit from 29 or more feet away in the half — and a 10-3 run to start the third quarter had the game following a familiar script. Nearly all the hallmarks of a Warriors win were there, including a stat-stuffing line from Green of 13 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists, 5 steals and 2 blocks, but James just kept willing his team back, proving that he was not susceptible to the exhaustion that seems to plague so many Golden State opponents in the second half.
The Cavaliers, though, were clearly frustrated after an overturned call in the fourth quarter helped swing the momentum toward Golden State and Smith’s horrible mistake at the end of regulation appeared to cost Cleveland what seemed like near-certain victory.
The overturned call came on what was initially ruled a charge against Durant. After a review, it was determined that James had committed a foul, and Durant’s two free-throws tied the game at 104-104.
James protested the change, and Lue, in his postgame remarks, claimed such a decision had never been made in the history of the game on a play outside the restricted area.
The overtime reset let the Warriors take a breath and calm down, at which point the defending champions were off to the races.
Durant hit a pair of free throws to start the scoring, Thompson hit a 3-pointer, and Shaun Livingston connected on a midrange jumper and a dunk in what would be a 9-0 run, and the Warriors closed the extra period having outscored the Cavaliers, 17-7.
Kerr, who often shows his frustration with players during games, tried to put his team’s struggles in some perspective in light of the victory.
“I thought we were pretty good,” he said. “I didn’t think we were great. I didn’t think we were bad. I think we can play better.”
He added, “But it’s not like we came out there and stunk it up.”
Green, who brushed off a late-game altercation with Tristan Thompson that occurred after Thompson was ejected from the game, was fine with Kerr’s having said the win was partially a result of luck. He was just happy it ended with his team on top.
“Sometimes you need a little luck,” Green said. “You know, it’s good to be lucky sometimes. So I’ll take it.”
While now in a 1-0 hole in the best-of-seven series, Cleveland could be revitalized by the close game, and has a chance to even things up, and steal home court advantage, if they can get a win in Game 2 on Sunday in Oakland. To prevent that, the Warriors must slow down James, which would be much easier if Golden State could get Andre Iguodala back from a bone bruise that has kept him out since Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. He’s slowed down some with age, but Iguodala won the 2015 Finals M.V.P. largely for his work in defending James.
Here’s how the Warriors won Game 1:
Overtime: Warriors Take the Lead
Kevin Durant got the first two points of overtime on a pair of free-throws, Klay Thompson hit a corner 3-pointer and Shaun Livingston sank a midrange jumper to put Golden State up by seven in overtime, forcing Cleveland to take a timeout. But with the way this game has gone, no one should count the Cavaliers out just yet.
Marc Stein: Let’s not forget that George Hill missed a potential game-winning free throw before J.R. Smith forgot the score and tried to dribble out the clock. But I still can’t believe what J.R. just did. The Cavs are throwing away an absolutely unreal opportunity to steal this Game 1.
4th Quarter: Missed Free Throw Leads to Overtime
George Hill missed a free-throw that could have given the Cavaliers a lead with 4.7 seconds left and Cleveland’s J.R. Smith failed to get a timeout called with time running out. Smith had the ball with seconds remaining, but apparently believed the Cavaliers were leading instead of tied. We’re headed to overtime.
Both teams are likely frustrated as this game heads to overtime. The Warriors undoubtedly can’t figure out how they were unable to get their typical offensive momentum in the second half and the Cavaliers are looking for answers for how they did not either get a shot off or get a timeout called after George Hill’s missed free-throw. In truth, this overtime is a huge gift for the Warriors, who for all intents and purposes should have lost the game already.
Marc Stein: J.R. Smith has now accounted for a hat trick of gaffes tonight that he might never live down.
4th Quarter: Cavs Refuse to Quit
A two-man show by LeBron James and Kevin Love has the Cavaliers in the lead, 104-102. James has been repeatedly getting to the basket and is up to 47 points after the free-throw, which comes courtesy of a Kevon Looney foul on James’s last basket. Love, who hit his first 3-pointer of the game, is up to 21 points and 14 rebounds, and right now Cleveland is firmly in control of the momentum, with Kevin Durant struggling to hit shots on the other end of the court.
4th Quarter: Warriors Get Hot at the Right Time
It had been a terrible shooting stretch for the Warriors, but they have suddenly woken up. Draymond Green had not been hitting wide-open jumpers in recent games, but the power forward sank a 3-pointer, giving Golden State a lead with just under five minutes to play. After a turnover, Stephen Curry also connected from deep. Suddenly the Warriors are leading the game by six, almost daring the Cavaliers to prove they can rally once again.
Marc Stein: No one is ever going to feel sorry for Golden State when the Warriors have four all-stars. But they surely can’t wait to get Andre Iguodala back. The hosts are rather fortunate to be up six heading into the final 4:37.
4th Quarter: Cavs Take the Lead
The Cavaliers are now leading 92-91 after LeBron James crossed the 40-point barrier for the eighth time this postseason. With Golden State missing shots and James only looking stronger, this game is wide open.
4th Quarter: 3-Pointers Pull Cavs Within Reach
After Klay Thompson’s free-throws, the Cavaliers got 3-pointers by Jeff Green and Kyle Korver and it’s suddenly a 1-point game, which prompted Steve Kerr to call a timeout to try to kill Cleveland’s momentum. James has been his typical dominant self, and is the primary reason the Cavaliers are in the game, but the difference between previous series and this one is that his teammates seem to be contributing to the effort in a big way.
Marc Stein: Warriors staffers have been insisting to me for 48 hours that this series would not be the cakewalk that so many of us media know-it-alls have been forecasting. I should have listened. The game is totally being played at Cleveland’s tempo. Say this for all of the Cavs’s flaws: With LeBron leading the way they know how to function in this environment.
4th Quarter: Do Cavs Have Enough to Come Back?
LeBron James had closed the gap to four points with an emphatic dunk, but Kyle Korver got called for a foul on a 3-point attempt by Klay Thompson, and after Thompson sank all three shots the lead is back to seven. The Cavaliers have not wilted at any point, and James continues to do whatever he wants on offense, so this game is far from over.
End of 3rd Quarter: Cavs’ Support Team Steps Up Again
LeBron James spent the last minute of the third quarter getting some rest on the bench and his teammates once again handled themselves well, outscoring the Warriors 3-2 in just over a minute. The fourth quarter is set to begin with Golden State leading 84-78.
Marc Stein: LeBron James has to take a seat on the bench at the end of the third quarter after following up his 11-for-13 start by missing six of eight shots. Was that rest enough to give LeBron gas for a finishing kick? Kevin Love (16 points) is the only other Cav in double figures.
3rd Quarter: Durant Heating Up for Warriors
Kevin Durant is starting to look comfortable and is up to 19 points, repeatedly pulling up for jumpers that would be impossible for a player without his height. The combination of a few big shots by him, a 3-pointer by Klay Thompson and dunk by Kevon Looney has Golden State up 82-75 with just over a minute left in the third quarter. It’s not exactly the dominance the Warriors showed in the third quarter against Houston, but they are suddenly building a bit of a distance. It will be interesting to see if Cleveland can once again answer the scoring run with one of its own. Thus far they have proved more than capable.
3rd Quarter: Cavaliers Storm Back
The Cavaliers are not falling into the trap of letting Golden State run away with the game. The early 10-3 run by Golden State in the quarter is a thing of the past, with the teams tied 73-73 after LeBron James and Stephen Curry traded 3-pointers. With just under four minutes to play in the third. LeBron James is up to 36 points.
Marc Stein: We’ve played more than half of this third quarter and the Cavaliers are still here to tell about it. Cleveland has slowed the pace nicely: LeBron really is a basketball savant. It’s 68-68 and Oracle Arena is in shock.
3rd Quarter: JaVale McGee Stays Busy
McGee, who was off to a strong start in the half, got the ball under the basket with no one in front of him. The 7-foot-1 center turned, elevated and seemed to forget to bring the ball up. By the time he thought to it was too late and he had his shot blocked — by the rim. It was a play that could seemingly only happen to McGee, who nevertheless had 4 points in six minutes of work.
3rd Quarter: Warriors Pick Up Where They Left Off
JaVale McGee started the second half and has instantly made an impact. His hectic defense against LeBron James (it wasn’t pretty) proved effective on one possession and then he scored consecutive baskets on the offensive end. The fan favorite has helped the Warriors start the half on a 10-3 run.
Halftime: Curry’s Buzzer-Beater Ties it Up
Stephen Curry got the ball in his hands with just seconds to play in the first half and he launched a 38-footer that would have been a ridiculous attempt from any other player in the N.B.A. but was basically a layup for him. The ball found its home as time expired and the Warriors went into halftime tied with the Cavaliers, 56-56.
If a monster third quarter for Golden State is coming, then Cleveland is in trouble. The Cavaliers were terrific in the first half, getting a typically-gargantuan performance from LeBron James, who had 24 points and 4 assists. They also got 12 points from Kevin Love, and they even outscored the Warriors while James took a short rest. But they are going into halftime having lost what was at one point an 11-point lead, and with the Warriors typically hitting their stride coming out of halftime, that could be a major issue.
Curry has looked as strong or stronger than he ever has in a finals game, with 18 points and six assists, while Kevin Durant has not displayed his typical dominance, with 11 points on 4 of 11 shooting.
CreditBen Margot/Associated Press
2nd Quarter: Green’s Hard Foul Puts James on the Floor
Draymond Green picked up his third personal foul of the game in a hard collision with LeBron James under the basket in which Green’s left hand hit James directly in the face, resulting in James being on the court for a few moments to collect himself. Green received his fourth technical foul of the postseason and headed to the bench.
2nd Quarter: Even With James on the Bench, Cavs Execute
Coach Tyronn Lue clearly had a plan with that timeout. LeBron James came out of the game for a rest with the score 44-40 in Cleveland’s favor. An immediate 3-pointer by George Hill, a steal followed by a Larry Nance Jr. dunk and a midrange shot by Kevin Love had it 51-40 before Klay Thompson ended the run with a 3-pointer. By the time James checked back into the game with 3:07 remaining, Cleveland had outscored Golden State by a score of 7-5 in his absence which is something the Cavaliers are almost never capable of doing.
2nd Quarter: It’s All Offense So Far
The timeout appeared to reset the Warriors, who went on a quick 5-2 run that forced Cleveland to take a timeout of its own. The little burst included Klay Thompson hitting a 26-foot 3-pointer, showing no ill effects from the collision earlier. LeBron James is up to 20 points already on 8 of 9 shooting and has chipped in with four assists as well.
2nd Quarter: Warriors Have No Answer for LeBron James
The Warriors, trailing by seven points, called a timeout with 7:48 remaining in the quarter. The most notable problem on Golden State’s end is probably Kevin Durant not making an impact, with only 6 points in 13 minutes. But the far bigger problem is Golden State not being able to slow down LeBron James at all without Andre Iguodala out. He has been able to do anything he wants offensively. The Warriors need to do something to break his rhythm because expecting him to wear out like James Harden did in the Western Conference finals is not a good strategy against the tireless James.
Marc Stein: Where is the Golden State defense? Translation: Where is the Golden State focus and effort? The Warriors just held the Houston offensive juggernaut under 100 points in five straight games. But they’re not playing with anything close to the same level of focus. Might they be waiting for the third quarter? (For the record: I am NOT feeling the suit shorts LeBron wore when he strolled into Oracle Arena tonight. And, yes, I secretly dream of writing for the NYT Style section.)
2nd Quarter: Cleveland Winning Battle of the Boards
The early second quarter has been much of the same, with Cleveland continuing to push the ball offensively and make Golden State pay for any missed shot on the other end of the court. The rebounding advantage is currently 13-7 in Cleveland’s favor and they are exerting their size advantages all over the places leading a 5-point lead.
Marc Stein: Feel-out game? LeBron is just feelin’ it. Period. He’s 6 for 7 from the field after finally missing an elbow jumper.
2nd Quarter: Klay Thompson Returns
Klay Thompson came back to the Warriors’ bench with just over a minute left in the first quarter and the crowd in Oakland exploded in huge cheers for the popular shooting guard. He was back on the court for the start of the second quarter but came up well short on a 3-point attempt.
End of 1st Quarter: LeBron James, Kevin Love Lead Cavs
Both teams are playing hard on both ends of the court, both are shooting better than 55 percent from the field, and a spirit of competitiveness is alive in Oracle Arena as the Cavaliers have repeatedly been able to answer any basket by the Warriors. At the end of the first quarter they lead, 30-29.
LeBron James leads all scorers with 12 points while Stephen Curry has 11. In a huge development for the Cavaliers, Kevin Love is just behind those leaders with 9 points on 4 of 7 shooting.
The question going forward is if this quick pace is something Cleveland can keep up with all game. Throughout the playoffs, Golden State’s opponents have tended to get worn out in the second half.
Marc Stein: LeBron James has often described Game 1 as his “feel-out game.” But there’s much less need for feeling things out when you’re playing the same team in the finals for the fourth consecutive June. An aggressive James has 12 points after a quarter, and those underdogs from Cleveland just recorded a 30-point opening quarter against the supposed invincibles.
1st Quarter: Cavs Keeping Pace With Warriors
Cleveland has continued to keep pace with Golden State, not letting what could be a backbreaking play, like Nick Young managing to score off an inbound pass with just 1.5 seconds left on the shot clock, break their spirit. They have gotten strong play from Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, supporting LeBron James more than we have seen in the previous few series.
Klay Thompson is being taped with a left lateral contusion on his leg and is expected to be available to return. His being out of the game for any length of time undoubtedly hurts the Golden State offense, but with Stephen Curry in a shooting groove, the length of time Thompson is out will have more of an effect on defense. Young can play better defense than some people may think, but he’s definitely a downgrade from Thompson.
Marc Stein: Lateral leg contusion — NOT words Golden State wants to hear these days when the same injury has sidelined Andre Iguodala for the past five playoff games. But ESPN’s Doris Burke says Klay is expected to return. And Thompson is known for being ultra durable.
1st Quarter: Klay Thompson to the Locker Room
Klay Thompson has come out of the game after a collision with J.R. Smith with 6:17 left in the first quarter. Smith appeared to slip and, in the process, awkwardly twisted Thompson’s left leg. Thompson is headed back to the locker room to be examined.
1st Quarter: Scoring Comes in Bunches Early
A deep 3-pointer and a driving layup by Stephen Curry, an alley-oop to Kevin Durant and a 16-footer by Klay Thompson had the Golden State offense humming along at a solid clip early in the first quarter, but Cleveland held strong thanks, unsurprisingly, to LeBron James and Kevin Love, and the Cavaliers were leading 15-12 at the game’s first break in action.
Golden State has been aggressive on both ends of the court, forcing a few turnovers, but Cleveland has just pushed the ball steadily toward the basket and has worked to keep the Warriors off their rhythm. Just before the break in action, Golden State was breaking across the court for what would have been a mismatch on offense and Cleveland broke it up with a smart foul. For all of the talk of the mismatch, the veteran Cavaliers do not look the least bit scared so far.
Marc Stein: Let’s see if this pace is something Cleveland can really continue to keep. The Warriors are far better conditioned to run up and down this way. The Cavaliers are humming offensively but they typically flourish in this building when the game is grind-y.
They’re also getting no stops early (as feared).
1st Quarter: First Points Scored by LeBron James
Tristan Thompson won the opening tip over Kevon Looney and the Cavs moved the ball around quite a bit before Kevin Love missed an opening midrange jumper. Golden State lost the ball on a turnover and LeBron James put in a layup for the first two points of Game 1. The 2018 N.B.A. finals are officially underway.