We expect an NBA Finals game to come down to the final seconds.
We just don’t expect a key player to suffer a mental lapse for the ages that decides the outcome, and possibly the series.
JR Smith, that rebel without a clock, made a monster athletic play, snatching the offensive rebound of a George Hill missed free throw with 4.7 seconds left in Thursday night’s Game 1.
Hill’s first free throw tied the game at 107-107. Had he made the second, he would have given the 13.5-point underdog Cavs the lead.
But he missed. The 6-foot-6 Smith soared over 6-foot-9 Kevin Durant. He could have gone up for a shot. He could have passed the ball to LeBron James, who was having his usual so-so playoff game (wink). He could have called timeout.
Instead, Smith dribbled towards halfcourt. James first pleaded for the ball. Then the King probably realized that there was a joker in his court.
Despite post game denials, Smith clearly had no clue as to time and score. As the clock drained towards 2 seconds, James tried to get Smith to go to the basket. Smith passed to Hill, whose shot was blocked.
After making his worst decision of the night, Smith arguably made his best decision. He did not take a seat directly next to James. He sat a seat away, not nearly far enough to escape the fury that was pulsing from James’ body.
The Warriors took control in OT surging to a 124-114 triumph. Game 2 is Sunday in Oakland.
Smith said post game he knew the score and time but ABC cameras captured him on the court telling James he thought the Cavs were ahead. Isn’t video evidence a kick in the rear end?
No team in recent years has been as big an underdog as the Cavs. Winning Game 1 would have at least served notice to the Warriors and bolstered Cleveland’s confidence.
The favored team often doesn’t play its best in Game 1. It’s realistic to think Golden State will play better in Game 2. And how many 50-point games can James produce?
What a shame if this series was decided by one brain spasm in the closing seconds of Game 1.
Of course, what would you expect from Smith, who wore no shirt to Cleveland’s 2016 championship parade, threw a bowl of soup at an assistant coach in March and was fined $50,000 for untying the shoes of Shawn Marion and Greg Monroe?
That’s what LeBron has to work with in his record 8th straight trip to the Finals.
QUOTE OF THE GAME: James on Smith’s late-game blunder – “I thought we were all aware of what was going on. That’s my view. So, I don’t know what JR was thinking. … I don’t know his state of mind.’’
PLAYER OF THE GAME/ALL TIME: Even by James’ standards, his performance was spectacular. He scored a playoff career-high 51 points on 19-of-32 shooting, including 3-of-7 on 3s with eight rebounds and eight assists. I am soooo tired of these questions about fatigue and age. He is Secretariat in gym shorts and a jersey.
KEY STRETCH: Cleveland was threatening to pull away from Golden State in the first half. Trailing 51-40, the Warriors went on a 16-5 run to close the half. Steph Curry’s 3 from the San Francisco side of the Bay Bridge as time expired tied the game at 56-56.
STAT OF THE GAME: How much fun is it to play on this Golden State team? The Warriors had 46 field goals off 31 assists. With James playing the point, the Cavs had 18 assists on 44 field goals. James had eight assists. No other Cleveland player had more than five (Jeff Green).
FORWARD THINKING: Draymond Green solidified his spot on the list of, ‘Players you love if they’re on your team but despise if they’re not.’
Green taunted Tristian Thompson in the final seconds, first using his hand to mock ‘chirping’ TT, and then clapping in Khloe Kardashian’s BF’s face. Thompson used the ball to give Green a facial. It almost ignited a brawl. The NBA office will decide if Thompson is suspended.
Honorable mention: To play alongside Green – Patrick Beverley, Matthew Dellavedova, Kelly Olynyk, Lance Stephenson, and Matt Barnes, emeritus.