OAKLAND, Calif. — J.R. Smith’s blunder, a disputed replay overturn and a key missed free throw dealt the Cavaliers a crushing loss in an opener of the NBA Finals that was ripe to be taken away from the defending champion Warriors.
The Cavaliers spent Friday trying to recover from one of the oddest and possibly most debilitating defeats in Finals history and awaiting word from the NBA on the status of two key big men for Game 2 on Sunday night.
Kevin Love will not be suspended for leaving the bench during an altercation in the closing seconds of Cleveland’s 124-114 overtime loss Thursday night. A person familiar with the decision said the league ruled Love left the bench to argue a flagrant foul against teammate Tristan Thompson and not to join the altercation. He then retreated to the bench immediately, so he did not deserve punishment.
Thompson was ejected for a flagrant-2 foul against Shaun Livingston, then shoved a ball into Draymond Green’s face before leaving the court. The NBA fined Thompson $25,000 and downgraded his foul to a flagrant-1. No other discipline is coming regarding the series opener.
Cavaliers guard George Hill said it would have been “petty” if it warranted a suspension. The Warriors weren’t concerned about how the league would rule.
“I thought it was unnecessary when he shoved the ball in Draymond’s face,” guard Klay Thompson said. “That was very uncalled for, especially if two guys are just talking. That’s not the way to play. But, honestly, I don’t care if he plays or not.”
Everyone is still trying to figure out what went on in the last minute of regulation in Game 1. It started after LeBron James converted a three-point play to give Cleveland a 104-102 lead with 50 seconds left.
James appeared to draw a charge on Kevin Durant. But officials went to the replay to see if James was in the restricted area, which would make it a block. While James was clearly outside the restricted area, officials also had the chance to review whether James was in legal guarding position and changed the call to a block because they determined he turned his body and moved into Durant.
Then the game really went off the rails when Hill got fouled with 4.6 seconds left and the Cavs trailing by one. He made the first free throw to tie it, missed the second.
Smith grabbed the rebound, but instead of putting it back up or passing to an open James up top, he dribbled toward halfcourt and threw a pass, running out the clock.
Coach Tyronn Lue said that Smith thought the Cavs were ahead, although Smith said he knew the game was tied and was waiting for a timeout to be called. Lue said he talked to Smith about what happened but wouldn’t give an explanation.
Lue expects a big bounce-back performance in Game 2.
“J.R. can shake off anything, and when everybody tends to count J.R. out, that’s when he comes through,” Lue said. “So he’s definitely going to start again. He’s a big part of what we do. That last play is over, it’s behind us, and we’ve got to move on.”
Hill said he couldn’t sleep last night, reliving the missed free throw.
“I felt like the team did a great job,’’ he said. ‘‘We put ourselves in a [position] to win the game. Me not hitting the free throw, I feel like it cost our team the win. And I dealt with that last night. We’re moving on as a team. We blew our chance, blew our opportunity. But we’ve got to focus on Game 2 now. It being one of the worst losses, we have to kind of put it behind us.”
The Warriors had some questions of their own in terms of availability for Game 2. Thompson, who briefly left the series opener after Smith slid into his left leg, said he is still sore but feeling much better, and he doesn’t expect any issues for Sunday.
Andre Iguodala remains doubtful as he tries to recover from a bone bruise in his left knee that has sidelined him for the last five games. Coach Steve Kerr said Iguodala is improving but still not expected to be healthy enough for Game 2.