Victory within Cavs’ grasp, but extra period belongs to Warriors in NBA Finals Game 1

Warriors 124 Cavaliers 114 (OT)

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Cavaliers were the biggest NBA Finals underdog in 16 years.

LeBron James’ supporting cast had been derided for days, despite ardent defense from the King on Sunday.

They weren’t supposed to be here after a drama-filled season, but they survived two Game 7s to set up an unprecedented fourth consecutive meeting with the Golden State Warriors.

The Cavs apparently took that negativity to heart and came out with the urgency they needed in Game 1 of the Finals.

A stunning victory was within their grasp Thursday night if point guard George Hill had made two free throws and the Cavs had held the Warriors scoreless for the final 4.7 seconds of regulation.

But Hill made only the first attempt and after J.R. Smith rebounded, he dribbled around before putting up a shot that was blocked at the buzzer.

The defending champion Warriors capitalized on their chance at new life, scoring the first nine points in overtime and running off with a 124-114 triumph in front of a deafening crowd at Oracle Arena.

Cavs center Tristan Thompson was given a flagrant 2 foul and ejected for pushing the ball in Draymond Green’s face with 2.6 seconds left in the extra period.

The final five minutes of regulation were tense as the lead went back and forth.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Green and Stephen Curry broke a 94-all tie and seemingly gave the Warriors the momentum and a 100-94 lead with 4:37 remaining. But James scored on a layup and a dunk and after a Curry layup, Kevin Love countered with a 3-pointer from the key with two minutes left.

James put the Cavs ahead 104-102 with 50.8 seconds to go with an and-one, making the free throw after a full Warriors timeout.

After a replay review on what was first called an offensive foul on Kevin Durant as he drove on James, the call was reversed to a foul on James and it didn’t take a lip reader to understand James’ displeasure. Durant made two free throws to tie the score with 36.4 seconds remaining. Curry put the Warriors ahead 107-106 with an and-one at 23.5 seconds to go, setting the stage for Hill’s trip to the line.

It was a night for a dramatic battle, and a night for history.

James finished with a career-playoff high 51 points and tied Michael Jordan (109) for the most 30-point games in NBA postseason history. James shot 19-of-32 from the field, including 3-of-7 beyond the arc, and added 10-of-11 free throws, along with eight rebounds and eight assists.

James also became the sixth player in league history to play in eight consecutive NBA Finals, joining Bill Russell and four of his teammates from the 1950s-60s Celtics.

The fourth consecutive matchup for the championship was a first in the four major professional sports leagues (NBA, MLB, NHL, NFL).

Love returned to the starting lineup after sitting out Game 7 against the Celtics with a concussion and contributed 21 points and 13 rebounds. Smith added 10 points and six rebounds and Larry Nance Jr. had nine points and 11 rebounds off the bench.

Curry led the Warriors with 29 points, six rebounds and nine assists, Durant had 26 points, nine rebounds and six assists, Klay Thompson 24 points and Green 13 points and 11 rebounds.

For a moment, it looked as if the game and the series may have turned with 6:17 remaining in the first quarter when Smith slipped and slid under Thompson, taking Thompson down. Thompson limped to the locker room and was replaced by Nick Young. But Thompson, who suffered a left lateral leg contusion, returned to start the second quarter.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue went youthful in the first half, giving extended minutes to Jordan Clarkson and Nance. A Revere High School product, Nance scored eight points (on 4-of-5 shooting) with seven rebounds in 10 first-half minutes, but Clarkson struggled, shooting just 1-of-6 from the field in the half and 2-of-9 for the game.

James came out on fire, scoring 11 points in the first quarter and making all four of his field goal attempts, one from long range. He poured in 24 points in the first half even as he got some rare rest, going to the bench with 6:25 left in the second quarter and returning at the 3:07 mark. In that span, the Cavs took a 51-45 lead.

The crowd was getting restless with the Cavs up 51-40 on a Love 3-pointer, but Thompson and Curry calmed their nerves, Thompson with a 3 and Curry with a bank shot. Curry tied the game 56-all at halftime with a 36-foot buzzer-beater that left him grinning.

But the real question was whether the Cavs could survive the Warriors’ third-quarter avalanche.

The Warriors outscored opponents by 371 points in the third quarter in the regular season (the largest scoring margin for any NBA team in any quarter this season) and coming in had a scoring margin of 130 in the playoffs.

It went true to form, with the Warriors using a 10-3 run to open a 66-59 lead and force a Cavs timeout at the 9:02 mark. JaVale McGee had a dunk and a layup in the surge, Thompson a layup off a Curry assist and Durant a jumper.

But using a 9-2 run, the Cavs fought back to tie the game at 68 with 5:26 left in the third quarter. James scored seven consecutive points and Tristan Thompson put in a layup, while all the Warriors could muster was a Durant jumper.

The see-saw battle continued in the third, as the Warriors went on a 12-2 surge to take an 82-75 lead with 1:15 left in the period. Golden State led 84-78 going into the final quarter, pushing their postseason third-quarter edge to 136 points. For the Cavs, that seemed like a minor victory.

Golden State had won the previous three Finals Game 1s and gone 7-2 in the opener in its nine Finals appearances, which date back its 1946-47 NBA championship.

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