Editor’s note: This piece was originally published on June 1, 2018.
Two lead changes. Three ties. A controversial replay reversal. A potentially series-changing blunder. The final minute of regulation in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals featured just about everything. We let the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors tell the story of one of the most dramatic 60-second periods in NBA history in their own words.
LeBron puts the Cavs ahead
After leading by 11 earlier in the game, the Cavaliers found themselves trailing for most of the second half. LeBron James got the ball in the backcourt after a Kevin Love rebound, and didn’t give it up for the rest of the possession. A JR Smith screen resulted in Stephen Curry switching on to James, who drove to the rim, where he was met by Kevon Looney. James powered through the contact, making the basket and drawing the foul. After a timeout, his free throw gave Cleveland a 104-102 lead.
Kevin Durant, Warriors forward: [LeBron is] getting a lot of screens, he’s getting Steph on him a lot, and that’s what the mismatch is, and getting the bigs on him.
LeBron James, Cavaliers forward: I just try to do whatever it takes to help our team win and try to be a triple threat out on the floor offensively and being able to score, rebound, and get my guys involved. So I just tried to do that tonight.
Durant’s charge changed to LeBron block
The Warriors didn’t call timeout after the James free throw, choosing instead to get right into their offense. Curry gave the ball up to Durant on the wing with 14 seconds left on the shot clock. Durant, guarded by Jeff Green, drove left and got a step on him. James, defending Draymond Green, slid into the lane in an attempt to stop Durant, who drove directly into James. Referee Ken Mauer blew the whistle, but then hesitated and looked at official Tony Brothers, who appeared ready to call a blocking foul, before signaling a charge on Durant.
The officials went to the monitor to review the call, and though James was clearly outside of the restricted area, they reversed the call to a blocking foul, a decision they were empowered to make thanks to a rules change from 2012-13. After the review, Durant made his two free throws to tie the score.
James: I thought I read that play just as well as I read any play in my career, defensively. I seen the drive, I was outside the charge line, I stepped in, took the contact. It’s a huge play.
Clarity on blk/charge review: The trigger is that if in the last 2 minutes of the 4th or overtime officials have doubt whether the defender was in the restricted area. While reviewing, they may also confirm if the defender was in legal guarding position when the contact occurred.
— NBA Official (@NBAOfficial) June 1, 2018
Ken Mauer, NBA referee: The reason for the trigger is that we had doubt as to whether or not James was in the restricted area. When over at the table, we then are allowed to determine whether or not he was in a legal guarding position. It was determined he was out of the restricted area, but he was not in a legal guarding position prior to Durant’s separate shooting motion. So we had to change it to a blocking foul.
Tyronn Lue, Cavaliers head coach: It’s never been done before where you know he’s outside the restricted [area], and then you go there and overturn the call and say it’s a block. It’s never been done, ever, in the history of the game. And then tonight in the Finals on the biggest stage, when our team played well, played our ass off — man, it ain’t right. It ain’t right.
Steve Kerr, Warriors head coach: I’ve seen it, not often, but I’ve seen it a couple times. I don’t remember exactly when they added that to the possible reviewable plays. I think it was maybe two seasons ago. But I’ve seen it a couple times.
Durant: Last year in the regular season same play happened to me. It was a block. They called it a block, and they went and reviewed it and changed it to a charge. So I knew once it was 30 seconds to go that they could review that situation.
Lue: LeBron was clearly 4 feet outside the restricted area. So it doesn’t make sense to go review something if — the review is if he’s on the line or if he’s close to the charge circle, that’s the review. He wasn’t close. So what are we reviewing? Either call a blocking foul or call an offensive foul.
LeBron quickly responds
After Durant’s free throws, the Cavaliers called timeout and advanced the ball to half court. James received the inbounds pass with Durant guarding him, and George Hill came to set a screen on James’ right. However, James quickly drove left and put in a double-clutch layup, giving Cleveland a 106-104 lead with 32.1 seconds to play.
Durant: Bron does a good job on the screen-and-roll, kind of balancing and unbalancing the floor and in matchups and getting a lot of screens to get guys on him. Then after that, it’s hard to stop him.
Lue: This is LeBron James, that’s who he is. That’s why he’s the best player in the world. He’s been doing it for us all season.
Kerr: They have a guy who is playing basketball at a level that I’m not sure anybody’s ever seen before, when you consider everything he’s doing.
Steph answers back and more
Again, the Warriors chose not to call a timeout, which would allow the Cavaliers to set up their defense. Instead, they put the ball in Curry’s hands, and he quickly delivered, driving left past Smith and finishing a layup while getting fouled by Love. The ensuing free throw gave Golden State a 107-106 lead with 23.5 seconds left.
Kevin Love, Cavaliers forward: I don’t know what the numbers say, but we gave ourselves a chance to win. It wasn’t just about my matchups. I felt like I did a good job of contesting, and I was trying to send them into the 2-point area, and guys had to pull over and contest. So those are tough guys to guard.
Hill goes to the line
James initiated the offense on the Cavs’ next possession, but was double-teamed by Curry and Green off the attempted Hill pick-and-roll. James got the ball to Hill, who gave it back to James to reset the offense with 10 seconds left. With Curry guarding James, Green — who had been switched to Hill — was keeping an eye on the ball, allowing Hill to cut back door. James fired a one-handed pass in the direction of Hill, who was grabbed by Klay Thompson as the ball flew into the stands. A foul was called, and Hill made the first free throw to tie the score with 4.7 seconds left.
James: I knew it was a tie game. We were down 1. George Hill went up, he made the first one.
Jalen Rose, NBA Countdown analyst: Let’s not let Hill off the hook. George Hill’s gotta make the [second] free throw.
Smith gets rebound, can’t get a shot
For the first free throw, Looney and Durant were positioned on the left side of the lane, with Smith in between them. But when Tristan Thompson entered the game, the Warriors switched up their rebounding positioning, leaving Durant alone on the left block to box out Smith.
Hill’s free throw was short and Durant drifted too far under the rim, leaving Smith in perfect rebounding position. He grabbed the ball, but rather than go back up with it or pass it to an open shooter, he dribbled out to the perimeter. James frantically pointed toward Hill in the corner, attempting to get Smith to pass the ball, but Smith’s pass came with just 0.7 seconds left.
At this point, James began to signal for a timeout, but the officials didn’t see him. By the time Hill — who was being covered by Looney and Green — caught the ball, he was unable to get a shot off, sending the game into overtime.
JR Smith, Cavaliers guard: I was trying to get enough to bring it out to get a shot off. I knew we were tied; I thought we were going to call timeout.
Kerr: I was disappointed that we didn’t get the rebound first, then, you know, we got lucky. He could have taken a shot, but he dribbled out.
Lue: [Smith] thought it was over. … He thought we were up one.
Smith: If I thought we were ahead, I’d have held on to the ball and let them foul me.
Durant: I thought he was looking for LeBron, because I was right there. If he had tried to put a layup up, I thought I had a good chance to contest it.
Draymond Green, Warriors forward: I guess that further goes along with my theory, I thought he was looking for LeBron. I would have looked for LeBron too. I guess.
Paul Pierce, NBA Countdown analyst: You could just see it in the Cavs’ faces — you saw it in LeBron’s face. Once it went to overtime, they were done.
James: We got to move on. This game is over and done with. We had opportunities. I would never give up on JR. That’s not my M.O. I don’t give up on any of my players, any of my teammates, so I don’t think that even needs to be said.
Klay Thompson, Warriors guard: There are no breaks at this point. A win is a win. If we would’ve won by 30 or won in overtime or at the end of regulation, it does not matter. We have a chance to go 2-0 on Sunday. You can look at it as catching a break, but at this point in the year breaks are more than welcome.