LeBron James returned to the NBA Finals this season after a year spent watching the playoffs at home. His last run in the title round began with a moment that will live in NBA Finals lore, and caused a self-inflicted injury even his greatest opponent was unaware of.
With the score tied in the waning seconds of Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals, Cleveland Cavaliers points guard George Hill missed his second free throw and guard J.R. Smith somehow grabbed the rebound over Kevin Durant. But instead of going back up, Smith dribbled the ball out, believing the Cavs held the lead. The game went to overtime and the Warriors grabbed a 124-114 win to spoil a 51-point performance from LeBron James.
After the game, James punched a whiteboard with his shooting hand and suffered a severe bone contusion. James played the next three games with an injured right hand, but the Warriors had no idea he was ailing until after they completed the sweep in Game 4.
"No. We had no idea at all. That’s news to me," one former Warriors player told Bleacher Report's Greg Swartz. "That was never brought up in a meeting or among the players or coaches. That’s news to me so I know it wasn’t brought up. That’s tough to play like that. He didn’t have his hand taped up or anything, so that’s crazy."
Following the Cavs' Game 4 loss, James appeared at the podium with a soft cast on his right hand.
"I let the emotions get the best of me. Pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand," James said after Game 4.
While he put up decent numbers during the final three games, James' shooting was clearly impacted. After shooting 59.4 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from 3-point range in Game 1, James' percentages dipped to 49.2 and 27.3 respectively over the next three games.
Even if he had remained healthy, the series was never in doubt. It took a herculean effort from James to drag that 2018 Cavs team to the Finals to face a Warriors team that was never going to be stopped.
Winning Game 1 would have only prolonged the inevitable -- another Warriors title.