Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors was a back-and-forth affair throughout, including Steph Curry’s long-range three to tie it at the end of the first half. But the end of the second half was even stranger, with the Cavs’ George Hill having a second free throw shot to take the lead inside the final seconds. Hill missed it, and teammate J.R. Smith grabbed the rebound, but instead of setting up for a shot or calling Cleveland’s remaining timeout, he dribbled back towards the halfway line, then threw a pass to Hill that was too late to get a shot off:
Here’s a replay, which also shows LeBron James apparently trying to call a timeout and then getting upset with Smith:
And the Warriors went on to win 124-114 in overtime, despite a 51-point, eight-rebound, eight-assist showing from James. If Smith does something different here, such as setting up a shorter-range shot or even just calling a timeout, the Cavs weren’t certain to win, but their chances would have been a lot better. It sure seems like Smith thought they were up and just had to run out the clock.
This was a great game, and one where Cleveland had tons of chances and where any number of moments could have turned it (including a previous charge call on Kevin Durant that turned into a controversial blocking foul on James upon replay review), so it’s not like this was the only spot where it swung. And this could have changed in other ways, such as if Cavs’ coach Ty Lue had called timeout himself. But with this Smith blunder coming at the end of regulation like this, and with the Cavs in such good position, it’s easy to think it’s one that will loom large in the memory.