OAKLAND, Calif. — All the chatter is that underdog Cleveland could be completely deflated from the way it flopped in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Determined and as motivated as ever might be more appropriate and fitting whenever LeBron James is in the mix.
“It’s one of the toughest losses I’ve had in my career,” James acknowledged Saturday, “because of everything that kind of went on with the game and the way we played. Obviously, we all know what happened in the game.”
There were miscues aplenty, most notably J.R. Smith‘s offensive rebound in the final seconds of regulation that he dribbled back toward half-court in a tie game rather than shooting for a chance to win it – later insisting he knew the score, though that remains a huge mystery. The decision baffled a frustrated and stunned LeBron, who signaled at his teammate with arms pointed toward the basket.
“The game’s over. There’s nothing we can do about it,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “We’ve got to move on, move forward.”
James has done so all postseason with an edge, intensity and ability to all-out carry the Cavs – will them to win after win, if you wish.
Yes, with King James on the other side in this familiar June rivalry, Golden State knows much better than to fall into such a trap that the Cavs might be down and out, even if the defending champions have some momentum going into Game 2 on Sunday night back home at Oracle Arena.
The Warriors learned that lasting lesson two years ago, when James led the Cavaliers back from the brink – a daunting 3-1 series deficit – to capture a title in Game 7 on the Warriors’ home floor.
“I know it’s not the exact same team, but we had them down 3-1 a couple years ago. They might have been deflated, and they came back and won, so we’re expecting another great effort from them,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We’ve been through this too many times. We beat Houston on the road in Game 1 and the narrative was, you know, series is over. It seems to always be that way. There is just overreaction after a game.”
Draymond Green didn’t sugarcoat it: Golden State got a little lucky to win Game 1 on a night James scored 51 points and the defending champions caught some big breaks.
The Warriors hope to be far better with a chance to take a 2-0 series lead before the series shifts to Northwest Ohio.
“Sometimes you need a little luck. It’s good to be lucky sometimes,” Green said. “I’ll take it.”
Kevin Durant wants the Warriors to remove the luck factor going forward. He even nit-picked that offensive board that Smith secured as something he should have done.
“As you try to lock in on the details as much as possible, that luck factor – good luck, bad luck – you don’t have it creep in if you figure out the detail parts,” Durant said. “To be good at those parts of the game, then you don’t let the luck creep in.”
Golden State gave up 19 offensive boards in all while getting only four.
The Warriors know James is going to score his share of points. They just want to make it harder for him to get good looks, something that is a top priority going into Sunday. James, in his eighth straight NBA Finals and ninth overall, shot 19 for 32 to go with eight assists and eight rebounds in the opener.
“We’ve got to make them work harder in general,” Kerr said. “I thought our defense was subpar the other night.”
James said he is taking antibiotics and using eye drops after getting poked in the eye by Green in the first half. The outer area of James’ eye was still red Saturday.
Klay Thompson expects to play though is listed as questionable with what he called a sprained left ankle while Andre Iguodala remained doubtful as he works back from a bone bruise in his left knee suffered in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals against Houston and has cost him the last five games.
Cleveland’s J.R. Smith slid into Thompson’s left leg in the first quarter of the series opener Thursday night. Thompson was dealing with stiffness, swelling and more pain Saturday.
“It is a Finals game, and I’m going to do everything I possibly can to play,” Thompson said. “It’s something you definitely don’t want to have in the NBA championship.”
Nor does James want blood in his eye to affect his vision or alter his view of the basket.
So, did he go off for 51 with only one good eye?
“No, I had some points before that already,” a good-natured James said, chuckling.