OAKLAND – This just in: Golden State is really good! The defending NBA champions are halfway to a third title in four years after holding serve in Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals in Oakland. It’s the third year in a row the Warriors with the home court advantage lead Cleveland and LeBron James 2-0.
This rivalry is edgy; it’s personal. Four years in a row, Golden State and Cleveland have stood between each other’s pursuit of NBA glory. It’s the greatest rivalry going in pro sports. Some want to claim it’s the game’s greatest player, LeBron James, vs. the NBA’s greatest team. Is it, or is it Curry vs. James IV?
Golden State survived Game 1 in overtime 124-114 in one of the greatest games I’ve ever witnessed. Cleveland was physical and out-rebounded Golden State 53-38, shooting 44 percent and controlling the tempo.
The game was chippy. J.R. Smith nearly wiped out Klay Thompson’s right ankle diving for a loose ball – it looked like a tackle the NFL Browns would be proud of.
The Cavaliers were defiant and focused following their leader James, who was sensational with 51 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists. Only six players in NBA history have scored 50 points or more in an NBA Finals game: Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Bob Petit, Rick Barry and Michael Jordan.
James said the loss was one of the worst in his playing career. Playing in his eighth consecutive Finals, James is now 1-8 in Game 1s.
Had it not been for a couple of bizarre events, Cleveland would have won. Cleveland led 106-104 with .36 seconds left in the fourth. Kevin Durant drove to the basket and was called for a charging foul. James defensively slid over and took the charge.
That meant Cleveland had the lead and the ball. However, the game officials went to the scorers’ table and reviewed the play to see if James was in the restricted area. The officials overturned the call, saying James was moving. Rarely if ever is a judgment call overturned, and rarely is it even reviewed.
Hello, conspiracy. Durant was given two free throws, and he made both to tie the game 106-106. Coach Tyron Lue and Cleveland were hot; they felt the officials took the game from them. A few seconds later the Warriors, leading by 107-106, fouled George Hill. He made his first free throw and missed his second badly.
J.R. Smith grabbed the rebound after the missed free throw by Hill in a tie game 107-107 with 4.7 seconds left and had a brain freeze. Instead of putting up a rebound shot or passing to James, he ran out the clock. He could have called timeout – it was unreal watching Smith’s epic blunder.
He thought Cleveland had the lead, according to Coach Lue. The Warriors dominated in overtime to win 124-114. Stephen Curry had 29 points and nine assists.
In Game 2 the Warriors had much better ball movement, leading from start to finish and winning 122-103. Curry had a game-high 33 points and made nine three-point shots, an NBA Finals record. Now the Finals shift to Cleveland on Wednesday for Games 3 and 4 on Friday.
The Cavs are 8-1 at home in the playoffs. Golden State has won four playoff games in a row after trailing Houston 3-2 in the Western Finals. Cleveland came back from 0-2 to beat Boston in the Eastern Finals.
The Warriors remember what happened two years ago when Cleveland rallied from 0-2 to win the title in seven games. The Warriors were 73-9 in the regular season. They can smell repeat and three titles in four years and are virtually unbeatable when they shoot 50 percent or better. They are 7-0 in the playoffs. They shot 51 percent in Game 1 and 54 percent in Game 2.