Holy shit that was awful.
The titanically underdog Cleveland Cavaliers walked into Oracle Arena for Game 1 of the Finals fearing neither god nor man and nearly stole home-court advantage from the Golden State Warriors. The worst word in the previous sentence is “nearly.” Despite LeBron James’ Herculean effort (51 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists) the Cavaliers will operate out of a 0-1 hole for the fifth Finals in franchise history. It’s only Game 1, but it feels like an elimination loss this morning. The question then becomes what to do with all this anger? Where should the blame fall?
20% – The Officials
We’ll get to the final possession, but first rewind to the 36-second mark. The Cavs lead by two when LeBron slides in to draw a charge from Kevin Durant. This moment would have given Cleveland the ball with a two-point lead and chance to kill some clock. Suddenly the referees walk over to the monitor to see if James’ foot is in the restricted area.
It is clear from replay that James is nowhere near the line. Sadly, because the review had been initiated the refs decided that James’ right foot slid in just a little too late and they changed the call to a block. Durant nailed both free throws to tie the game. If the refs left well enough alone then Cleveland has the ball up two with a chance to kill 24 seconds, score, and make it a two-possession game with twelve or so seconds to go. Instead the game again leveled to a tie.
30% – George Hill
With the Cavaliers down one and the shot clock turned off James and the gang were in the rare position of being able to win in Oakland. As the timer slipped into single digits James attempted a bullet pass to George Hill down low. Klay Thompson fouled Hill, sending him to the free throw line. Hill calmly knocked down the first shot to tie the game. Even before he uncurled the second something seemed off about his form. The ball lacked the same lift as the first shot and it clanged off. If Hill hits the second freebie then Golden State would have likely called timeout with 4.7 seconds left. The Warriors could then advance the ball and draw up a play for one of their future Hall-of-Famers. I feel it’s important to stress that even if Hill hits his second free throw there is still so much time on the clock for a Warrior rebuttal. Still, it would’ve been interesting to see how well the Cavs could defend the Dubs at the death and Golden State certainly could have missed their last shot.
10% – Coach Ty Lue
Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out? Why didn’t you call time out?
Also, Lue inexplicably left Jordan “2-of-9 From the Field” Clarkson on the court for seventeen minutes.
40% – J.R. Smith
Oh, J.R. You poor, shirtless, fool. Smith climbed the ladder for the offensive rebound in the last possession, but seemingly all sense left his body immediately after that. He behaved the same way I would be I in that situation only I would’ve been thinking, “HolyshitIgottheballwhatdoidoletsdribbleawaynoonehurtmepleaseeeee.” In the moment I thought for a second that Smith was dribbling toward the referee to call timeout. Instead, he was just dribbling toward his own infamy. Let’s bring out some caveats when it comes to J.R. Smith:
The problem is: HE DID NOT DO ANY OF THOSE THINGS. According to Coach Lue, Smith thought the Cavs were winning by one point instead of tied. Fans have it easy in that we have all the critical information staring us in the face during a game, I admit that. But knowing the score of the game is literally the least one can do during a game. Smith’s failure to recognize the situation absolutely cost the Cavs’ a better shot and for that reason, he deserves a plurality of the blame.
It’s tough to pull the thread in an NBA game. After a minute or two, you think back to other plays (If only Korver had hit his technical free throw). After an hour you’ve started to sweat a little (If only Dr. James Naismith had better defined what constitutes a charge versus a block). By lunch, you’ve become Charlie Kelly talking about “boxes full of Pepe.”
It remains to be seen if Smith’s blunder defines the series (or his career) but for now, the Cavs have the unenviable task of facing the same team on Sunday with another chance to steal home-court advantage. Still, moments like this have the potential to haunt especially if LeBron James walks out of the building wishing he had teammates who wouldn’t waste his talents. Maybe in July, he will.