OAKLAND -- 4.7 seconds might end up deciding the 2018 NBA Finals. It’s a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things, but for the Cleveland Cavaliers, it was all that was needed for everything to come undone.
It’s a play that will go down in basketball lore as one of the most inexcusable mental lapses ever. Or maybe it wasn’t. That depends on who you believe.
With just under five seconds remaining in Game 1, George Hill bricked a free throw that would have given the Cleveland Cavaliers an improbable one-point lead in the waning seconds over the Warriors on their home court.
Veteran J.R. Smith snared a rebound, giving the Cavs a second shot to win it in regulation. Instead of going back up with it, Smith dribbled the ball almost to halfcourt, while Steph Curry and Klay Thompson surrounded him and LeBron James stood nearby in anguish.
“George shot the free throw, I got the rebound,” Smith said following the game. “Tie ballgame and we had a timeout. I tried to get enough space to maybe get a shot off. KD [Kevin Durant] was standing right there. I tried to bring it out and get enough space to maybe get a shot off. I looked over at 'Bron [LeBron James] and he looked like he was trying to call a timeout. So I stopped, and the game was over.”
When pressed on whether he knew the score of the game, Smith responded, “I knew it was tied, I just thought we were going to call a timeout because I got the rebound.”
Smith’s head coach had a different view of the play.
“He thought it was over,” Tyronn Lue said. “He thought we were up one.”
James, who had the best view of the play and a wide open look from the top of the key, didn’t know what to make of the situation. After posting 51 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in almost 48 minutes of action, he wasn’t exactly in a talkative mood after the loss.
“I knew it was a tie game,” James said. “We were down one. George Hill went up, he made the first one. We got the offensive rebound, you know, I thought we were all aware of what was going on. That’s my view. I don’t know what J.R. was thinking. I don’t know the question you are trying to ask.”
Media members pressed James for more answers, but the four-time league MVP didn’t bite.
Smith bears the brunt of the blame. As the old NBA adage goes, any shot is better than no shot. He had plenty of opportunity to pull up and shoot, pass to a teammate with a better look or even call a timeout himself.
Letting the clock wind out is completely inexcusable for a rookie, let alone a 14-year NBA veteran. It was a huge gaffe, but there are plenty of other issues to examine.
First and foremost, Hill’s miss at the line would have given the Cavs a lead with less than five seconds remaining. The Warriors would have had an opportunity to inbound the ball and go for the win, but we’ll never know how that would have turned out.
Clearly upset by the situation, Hill walked out of the locker room without speaking to the media following the game.
Secondly, the Cavs had an opportunity to actually call a timeout and run one last play. Again, we have no idea of how that might have worked out, but there were plenty of people employed by the Cavs, not named J.R. Smith, that could have halted the game while he was wandering around burning precious seconds.
Lastly, the Cavs didn’t lose the game in the final seconds, they just didn’t win it. Golden State came out and mauled them in the overtime session, outscoring Cleveland 17-7 in the extra five minutes of play.
Either way, Game 1 was a golden opportunity for the Cavs to steal away homecourt advantage and change the entire narrative surrounding this year’s NBA Finals. Cleveland has two days to lick its wounds and prepare for another battle with the Warriors come Sunday.
Down 0-1 to the reigning champs, the Cavs can’t afford to make anymore game-altering mistakes.
|Game 1||Warriors 124, Cavaliers 114|
|Game 2||Oakland -- Sunday, June 3 at 5pm|
|Game 3||Cleveland -- Wednesday, June 6 at 6pm|
|Game 4||Cleveland -- Friday, June 8 at 6pm|
|Game 5||Oakland -- Monday, June 11 at 6pm|
|Game 6||Cleveland -- Thursday, June 14 at 6pm|
|Game 7||Oakland -- Sunday, June 17 at 5pm|