J.R. Smith’s inexplicable game-ending dribbling demo is and should be the thing fans remember about Game 1 of these short-looking 2018 NBA Finals, but lost in all the hubbub around Smith’s all-time brain fart is that the Cavs absolutely should have won a road game against a Warriors team that really played well. The numbers say this Finals ranks as history’s third most lopsided matchup, and the Cavs very nearly stole Game 1. They would have done so exclusively because of LeBron James.
The King had what was probably the best Finals game of his career, with 51 points on 59 percent shooting, eight boards, and eight assists. This is the sixth time someone has scored 50 in a Finals game and the first time that a 50-point scorer has lost, which says as much about his teammates as it does the quality of the Warriors. He got his by isolating to a ridiculous degree and roasting whomever the Warriors put on him, which I suppose explains why the Cavs had only 18 assists (Golden State had 31) and eight of those came from James.
Without Andre Iguodala to worry about, LeBron feasted. See how easy this looks for him.
This is a Steph Curry shot.
By the end of the game, it seemed like he was simply running at the rim and scoring because he wanted to. He still found teammates if they were sufficiently open, but it sure seems like he realized that the most efficient way for his team to score is to cut the other four dudes out entirely.
The Warriors took a quick seven-point lead at the start of the third quarter with what seemed like one of those runs, the ones where they turn a close game into a blowout in five possessions. It felt like the Cavs would fade and die, because that’s what Warriors opponents do. Instead, LeBron went on a solo 12-2 run and even clawed back a three-point lead for the Cavs. Golden State of course ended the third with a lead, but LeBron’s burst saved his team. He was tremendous throughout regulation before wilting slightly in overtime, though it’s hard to blame him after Smith coughed up a chance at letting LeBron seal his greatest-ever Finals game with a game-winner.
The Cavs might not have much of a chance to win four of the next six games, but last night showed that, duh, LeBron James is the best player in this series and his team can win if he has a perfect game. Asking him to go for 51 and be everywhere all at once four more times seems impossible. Still, he’s splitting 34.9-9.2-8.7 in the 2018 playoffs, and if one can reasonably assume that James won’t continue topping his best Finals performance in each successive game, one can also assume that the Warriors won’t shoot 51 percent every night (especially as long as Durant has to burn energy defending James). The sad reality is that LeBron James needs to be perfect, again, four more times. Even then, it still might not be enough, but there’s no other way the Cavs stand a chance.