Philippines, 13 Dec 2018
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Dong Secuya
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Eddie Alinea

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OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: A drama-filled Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Dubs and the Cavs

The NBA Finals has always been a dramatic segment of the world’s oldest and biggest professional basketball league since its inception in 1949, and J.R. Smith of the Cleveland Cavaliers authored some for all the wrong reasons.

The Cavs’ swingman had what could be the bonehead play of the century in Game 1 of his team’s best-of-seven Thursday against the Golden State Warriors where Cleveland had a golden opportunity to win Game 1 in regulation with the game tied at 107 and George Hill at the free throw line with 4.7 seconds left.

Hill made the first free throw but missed the second and Smith managed to haul down the offensive rebound. For reasons known only to him, he took the ball out instead of trying a follow up that could have given the Cavs the lead back and the win.

The huge blunder negated LeBron James’ 51-point performance in his solitary effort to score Cleveland’s Game 1 win over Golden State in their four years of NBA Finals appearance and Smith blew that rare chance away. The Cavs lost in overtime.

Smith isn’t the first player to have erred on this stage. Magic Johnson famously became “Tragic Johnson” — exactly on the same day 34 years ago, in Game 2 of the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics — when he inexplicably dribbled out the clock during regulation. The Los Angeles Lakers lost in overtime and the series in seven games.

Those kind of blunders haunt and are rarely forgotten. And they often seem to break to the Warriors’ advantage. Draymond Green has no shame in accepting those benefits.

“Sometimes you need a little luck,” Green said after the game. “You know, it’s good to be lucky sometimes. So I’ll take it. I think when [Smith] got the rebound, he probably could have laid it up. But nonetheless, that’s a part of the game, being locked in. I mean, you got to know the score. That’s just kind of basketball. You got to know if you’re winning or losing or tied. Like I said, we’ll take it.”

LeBron was mad at Smith for the mental mistake. He didn’t hide it. Smith could be seen confronting James after the incident telling him that he thought the team was ahead. Of course, this, however, is not new for Smith, who doesn’t often do the smartest thing.

Smith tried to cover up for his costly mental lapse explaining later he did not know the score by that time. Video even appeared to show Smith telling James that he thought the Cavs were ahead rather than tied at 107.

“I thought we were ahead,” Smith told social media man Rob Perez.

After the game, everyone was asked about the play. Cavaliers head coach Ty Lue said Smith thought the team was ahead. Smith tried to cover his behind and tell everyone he knew the game was tied.

"He thought it was over. He thought we were up 1," Lue said during the post-game interview with media.

Smith, in a separate post-game statement: "I knew we were tied, I thought we were going to call timeout."

LeBron James was furious with his Cleveland Cavaliers teammate for dribbling out the clock and clearly not knowing the score at the end of regulation. A shot of him being frustrated with Smith turned into a meme online, and a pretty funny one at that.

Everything didn’t look right for Bron and the Cavs all evening.

In another instance during the game, Warrior Kevin Durant was driving to the basket with his team down 104-102 and 36.4 seconds left. As he elevated for a shot attempt, James slid in front of him to take a charge. The referees initially called it an offensive foul on Durant, but they reviewed it and changed their call to a blocking foul on LeBron. Durant then made both of his free throws to tie the game.

Instead of the Cavs having the ball up two, the Warriors were able to turn the table on their side. It was a huge reversal that heavily impacted the game.

LeBron suffered some damage to his left eye after being poked by Draymond Green in the second quarter. Last season’s defensive player of the year hit James in the face and poked him in the eye while trying to defend him going up for a shot. Later in the game, ABC showed James sitting on the bench and zoomed in on his left eye, which had a red spot.

Even though he clearly hit James in the face — and there is evidence of the injury — Green still protested the foul call. He ended up being called for his fourth technical foul of the playoffs.

Steve Kerr admitted after the game the Warriors “got lucky” to eke out the overtime win. Golden State can thank Smith for that good fortune in many respects.

Tristan Thompson joined in the fray. He was ejected with 2.6 seconds left in the game and the Warriors up 124-114. Thompson was called for a flagrant 2 foul on Shaun Livingston, which resulted in an automatic ejection. He went up to contest a layup attempt by Steph Curry and elbowed the Warriors star.

Tristan’s elbow is what set everything off here with game decided. That’s not a contest and that’s what Steph was livid. A lot of words were exchanged between the two sides after that. Thompson was getting into it with Green.

The Cleveland slotman swiped the ball into Green’s face and the NBA may have to review the play to see whether or not Thompson left the floor in a timely fashion, because he could be subject to more discipline.

Between this and the Smith’s blunder, it was a terrible ending for the Cavs.

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Eddie Alinea.

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