Before the jump ball was even tipped up, the Cleveland Cavaliers started the NBA Finals as historic underdogs by oddsmakers and experts alike. But basketball is played on the hardwood, not in the books. And when Game 1 started on Thursday night (Friday morning in India) in Oakland, the biggest rivalry in basketball exploded with an adrenaline-fuelled opener.
Game 1 of the Finals had everything: overtime basketball, a superhuman performance by the game’s best player, flaring emotions between old rivals, clutch performances by the champions, and some late-game glitches that turned the tide of the result. It was the best and the most dramatic that both teams had to offer.
And in the end, the reigning champions Golden State Warriors struck first, winning 124-114 to protect home court in Game 1.
When the lights were the brightest, the stars came out to play. Six All Stars started Game 1, and all of them put up big numbers. LeBron James led the way with an unbelievable stat-line of 51 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists, and got good assistance from Kevin Love’s 21 points and 13 rebounds. For the Warriors, Stephen Curry led the way with 29 points and nine assists, Kevin Durant had 26 points and nine rebounds, Klay Thompson scored 24, and Draymond Green had a near triple-double: 13 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists.
Both teams have been strong offensively all season, and they started with a high-scoring first quarter, with the Cavs leading 30-29. A miraculous Curry three-pointer at the buzzer tied the game at 56 at halftime. The Warriors took the court with their usual third-quarter bluster in the third quarter to take a six-point lead, but the Cavaliers bounced back to tie and take the lead in the last few minutes again.
Game 1s in such high-octane series are always full of a lot of jitters. Coach Steve Kerr called it “a feel out game”. And the Warriors, especially on the defensive end, felt those jitters, unable to stop LeBron, Love and others from keeping up.
The game was eventually decided in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter, in alternating moments of brilliance and flops. An important call went the Warriors way when James was called on a blocking foul on Durant, handing Durant two free throws with 36 seconds to go to tie the score. LeBron made a lay-up four seconds later to give the Cavaliers the lead, and nine more seconds later, Curry scored a lay-up with a foul to give Golden State a 107-106 win.
The shot clock was turned off, and with 4.7 seconds left in the game, George Hill was fouled and sent to the line with a chance to give Cleveland the lead. Hill made the first but missed the second, and even when the Cavaliers got the offensive rebound, guard JR Smith failed to take a shot and the game went into overtime.
The Warriors smelt blood at this unexpected opportunity, and they used OT to get their groove back. A 17-7 run led by Thompson, Curry, Durant, and Shaun Livingston closed the game out, and Golden State took the win. Bad blood marred the game’s end with Tristan Thompson and Draymond Green jostling, and words were exchanged between James and Klay Thompson, too.
The Warriors will go home breathing a sigh of relief, and the Cavaliers will feel that they were a couple of whistles, bounces, and inexplicable decisions away from stealing an epic Game 1 on the road. Cleveland will rue wasting an amazing LeBron performance, but if anything, the end to Game 1 has reframed the conversation about the 2018 Finals. This is going to be no cakewalk: the Cavaliers will take their best shot at Golden State, and in return the Warriors will have to play at their highest level to ensure they win Game 2 on Sunday night.
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Updated Date: Jun 01, 2018 10:16:16 IST