Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals was unlike anything people expected.
The spread in Las Vegas before the game favored Golden State over Cleveland by 13 points, the largest odds against LeBron James in a single game in over a decade.
Despite the odds though, Cleveland, backed by James’ NBA Finals career high 51 points, outplayed the Warriors in the majority of the game. The Cavs even led by as many as 11 points in the second quarter.
This was largely due to LeBron’s brilliance as well as the fact that Cleveland was the more physical team. They dominated the boards, especially on the offensive end.
Photo via @KingJames
But, Golden State did not turn the ball over and shot better from three, which kept them in the game.
Still, in the last minute, the game was Cleveland’s to lose. And three things went horribly wrong for them.
The first was with just 36 seconds left. The officials overturned a very close block/charge call thanks to a fairly new rule that those plays are reviewable. Instead of Cleveland retaining possession up by two, Kevin Durant got to knock down two free throws to tie the game.
The next was with 4.7 seconds left. Cleveland was down by one and James rifled a pass underneath the basket to George Hill, who would have an open layup if he weren’t grabbed by Klay Thompson.
Hill was 81 percent from the line this year. After tying the game with the first free throw, he missed the second, missing the opportunity to go up one and force the Warriors to hit the final shot.
And the final was the blunder heard around the world, where JR Smith grabbed the offensive rebound after Hill’s miss and dribbled the clock out.
According to Cleveland Head Coach Tyrone Lue, he though the Cavs were ahead and was running the clock out.
If one of those three things does not happen, Cleveland probably steals Game 1. Instead, they lost in overtime. Golden State Head Coach Steve Kerr said that his team got “Lucky.”
With the wacky ending to the first one, how will both teams come out on Sunday? Did the bizarre fashion that Cleveland lost game one sink them for Game 2? Or could it motivate them?
With that, let’s look at history.
LeBron James teams have won the first game of the Finals once… in 2011. In all of his Champion seasons, he trailed in the Finals from the beginning.
In this year’s playoffs, the Cavaliers lost Game 1 twice, to Indiana and Boston. In 2016, Cleveland’s championship year, the Cavs dropped the first two games. He won all of those series in seven games.
Obviously, this year is different, with James having perhaps his worst Finals supporting cast yet and going against Golden State with Kevin Durant who wasn’t there in 2016. There is more of an uphill climb this year.
Nonetheless, after seeing his opponents in Game 1s, James has scored 43, 46 and 42 in his three Game 2s this year. Especially after Thursday’s loss, a similar performance to those seems very likely.
Andre Iguodala usually guards Cleveland’s superstar when these two met in the past, but he has missed the past few games and has been ruled doubtful for Game 2.
Without Iguodala’s help, James can continue to take advantage of his matchups, especially when Golden State switches.
What will James get from “the other Cavs” though.
Kevin Love was solid coming back from his concussion, another double-double will be needed from him. Sometimes defensively against the Warriors, Love has gotten exposed on switches. But, offensively and on the boards, he should be able to duplicate his Game 1 efforts.
JR Smith is going to need to make up for his error. The criticisms of him should lead to him being aggressive in Game 2.
If he catches fire, it can give Cleveland a huge tool. But he has shot very poorly this postseason, especially on the road. With that, we could see a lot of bricked threes coming his way.
For Golden State, Kevin Durant was not productive on Thursday. He took a lot of contested mid-range shots and shot a poor 8-22.
Durant was great throughout the playoffs mostly, but he is in a funk right now. He has shot under 40 percent in three of the past four games. If Cleveland defends him well again from the get-go, his rhythm could continue to be thrown off.
Golden State’s “Splash Brothers” Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson did their part in opening game, they shot 10-21 from deep.
Heading into the next game however, Thompson has a sprained ankle and bruising. According to Bleacher Report, he plans to play, but the discomfort can limit him defensively and perhaps hurt his shooting rhythm.
Anything can happen in Game 2 from a gritty Cavs win to a Warrior blowout.
In order for Cleveland to win they will need “The King” to dominate once again. They will need to control the boards and limit their turnovers to create more shots. They will need another productive game from Kevin Love. The will need another role player to step up, whether that is Smith redeeming himself, Korver playing more than 16 minutes and hitting his threes or Jeff Green playing like he did in Game Seven at Boston where he scored 19. They will need Durant or Curry to struggle. And they will need a little luck.
In order for Golden State to win, they just need to play their usual game, with good production from their stars and solid defense on everyone except James since that is close to impossible. If he is the only one hurting the Warriors, then they are in good shape.
The odds are stacked against James’ Cavaliers, but as we saw in Game 1, they can beat Golden State. Just a lot has to go right. And they have to come out with an intensity we have yet to see.