CLEVELAND – LeBron James put himself back in the moment of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, J.R. Smith boneheadedly dribbling out the clock with the Cavaliers and Warriors tied at the end of regulation. LeBron motioned Smith toward the basket then desperately tried to call a timeout before the fourth quarter ended.
“I don’t know if I had enough time because I was kind of a little bit still in shock of what was going on at that point in time,” LeBron said.
He didn’t. Time expired without the timeout granted, and LeBron went to the bench.
A viral video later emerged showing what happened next. LeBron and Smith sat in a tense silence. When Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue came over, LeBron asked whether the Cavs still had a timeout. Lue informed him they did, and a pained look came over LeBron’s face. LeBron leaned back in exasperation, leaned forward to bury his head in a towel, sat back and crossed his arms bitterly, clenched his lips and look around, yelled something, put his hand in to cap a huddle happening next to him then took the floor for overtime.
“Damn cameras,” LeBron said when told today of the video’s popularity.
LeBron explained he was unsure whether the Cavaliers had any timeous remaining and feared a Chris Webber situation, calling a timeout with none left. If LeBron had, the Warriors would have gotten a technical free throw and a chance to win in regulation.
But LeBron certainly didn’t look relieved to learn he didn’t nearly make a huge blunder. What had him so upset?
“It was just knowing that we had an opportunity to have another possession, even with the offensive rebound,” LeBron said. “It was just – it was just a heartbreaking loss.”
Of course, the loss hadn’t been determined yet. There were still five more minutes to play.
But Cleveland played as if already defeated and lost by 10, sparking questions of whether LeBron should have done more to rally his teammates before overtime.
“We’re in the NBA Finals. I mean, how much more picking up of teammates do you want me to do?” LeBron said. “I’m in the NBA Finals, looking for a championship.”
Could Smith have used a pick-me-up from the Cavs’ leader? Probably. It’s easy to say Smith should have locked in on his own, but encouragement from LeBron would have been powerful. Yet, LeBron also needed to ready himself in an emotional moment.
This is LeBron’s burden. He’s absolutely carrying the Cavaliers, and it’s still not enough.
At least he’s handling the criticism for isolating himself before overtime of Game 1 in stride.
“Me? Me being criticized? Nooo,” LeBron said. “You’re saying I got criticized for something, right? I don’t believe that. Not me.”
LeBron said that with a smile – quite a different look from the most memorable moment of the Finals so far.