The Cleveland Cavaliers mustered enough quality possessions at both ends of the floor to steal an unlikely win in Oracle Arena in the first game of the NBA Finals, but they came up just short against the Golden State Warriors. In the process, LeBron James’ 51 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists went for naught.
By scoring more than 30 points, LeBron matched Michael Jordan with 109 such performances. To put that in perspective, Kobe Bryant had 88 such games in his storied career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
LeBron also tied Lakers legend Jerry West for most 40-point games (eight in 1965) in a single postseason.
LeBron posted the performance in his 15th season, at the age of 33. However, the game will most likely be remembered for what didn’t happen than for anything the future Hall of Famer accomplished on the court.
In a tie game, teammate JR Smith corralled an offensive rebound with 4.7 seconds remaining regulation and the score tied, and he subsequently dribbled out the clock. He apparently forgot the score, thinking the Cavaliers were up by one point.
Cleveland guard George Hill went to the free-throw line, down one, to try to give his team the lead. After making the first free-throw, the second one fell short, allowing Smith to grab the rebound.
In addition, the Cavaliers fell victim to a curious officiating decision. With 36 seconds remaining in the game and Cleveland up by two points, LeBron seemingly took an offensive charge. Even though his feet were considerably outside the restricted area, the refs opted to go to the monitor. While reviewing a play deemed close enough to warrant a review, the officials can also judge movement. They changed the call from a charge to a block, giving Kevin Durant two free-throws to tie the game.
"We've got to move on," LeBron told reporters. "This game is over and done with. We had opportunities."
The litany of big plays surrounded LeBron pouring in a career-high performance in the NBA Finals. The Cavaliers entered the game as significant underdogs, and they felt like they should have stolen Game 1.
The series returns to Golden State’s Oracle Arena on Sunday night for Game 2. Keep it here on AXS.com for more NBA news and tickets to select games.