Smith’s blunder squanders LeBron’s historic 51

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Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group

He pleaded for the ball, signaled for a timeout with only a second left in regulation. The buzzer sounded. Tie ballgame.

LeBron James, furious and heated, stared hard at JR Smith, scolded him for the mental blunder that squandered the Cavaliers’ chances to steal Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

The Cavs’ crushing 124-114 loss in overtime to the potent Warriors critically changes the personality of the series. It was awfully tragic that they didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to come away with a statement victory.

With 4.6 seconds remaining on the clock Thursday night, George Hill was awarded a pair of free throws. He made the first shot. It dropped through the net for a point. He missed the second shot. It clanked off the front of the rim and somehow landed in the hands of Smith.

On the final play of the fourth quarter, Smith dribbled out the clock in a tie game and didn’t fire up the potential game-winning shot. A night in which James turned in the greatest Finals performance ever, one that was hailed as an epic masterpiece, was utterly trivial. It was a defining moment for James, all the while Smith’s gaffe was the dumbest in sports history.

The world’s best player scored a career-high 51 points, doing everything he could to drag his supporting cast along the way. The world’s stupidest player made an inexplicable decision that reflected upon his lapse of judgment, costing the Cavaliers a decisive game.

It was from this perspective that he mistakenly believed Cleveland had the lead. It was an error not even a kid playing in the junior NBA would have made in the closing minutes.

Plenty of drama, James’ historic night, a controversial reversal of a late charge-block call and a dribble-out-the clock debacle, kind of like Bill Belichick’s 4th-and-blunder, were surprising twists with a juicy, compelling subplot.

Right about now, Cleveland fans are speechless and disgusted by a mischance that befell Smith and, for what it is, he has lost James’ trust. So by not taking the final shot, he’s been made a scapegoat after just one game and, bad as it was, he may not recover from a very big misstep.

Afterwards, he felt dejected, his confidence in tatters, and he lamented their demoralizing loss. Met by a throng of reporters after the game for postgame interviews, Smith was candid with the media. He says he knew the game was tied but apparently there was a bit of confusion and miscommunication. From what he told reporters, he thought the Cavs were going to burn a timeout and make quick adjustments in the huddle.

This has been a common problem for James and the Cavs. He’s surrounded by unreliable, untrustworthy bodies and feels tired occasionally. He’s usually worn down by overworking himself simply because he plays heavy minutes and gets very short rest.

When he took the podium, James wasn’t only exhausted but not in any mood to speak to reporters at the presser following a damaging defeat. He was repeatedly asked about Smith’s remarkablely boneheaded play. Already embittered by the outcome, James rose from his chair, grabbed his bag and told the reporter as he walked out, “Be better tomorrow.”

This series, entering the Finals, seemed unlikely to be a smashing success, but so far, the rematch of Cavaliers vs. Warriors—after just one game—has been compelling and dramatic. And no, the matchup isn’t on the scale of Celtics vs. Lakers, but the two teams have fired an intense rivalry with energy and raw emotions.

The Warriors had more than enough time to get off at shot at the buzzer before halftime. Sure enough, Stephen Curry buried a deep three as time expired. The team survived with their star guard, who had 29 points on the night, leading all Warriors scorers. In addition, Klay Thompson scored 24 points and drained five 3-pointers on 8-for-16 shooting.

It was tied 56-56 at the intermission but the Warriors opened a seven-point lead in the third quarter and the Cavaliers trailed for most of the second half. It was, however, a game certainly within reach for Cleveland with James on the floor.

It indeed produced a thrill, much more so than fans anticipated, when the Warriors appeared to have more offensive firepower than the Cavaliers. But James, the scoring king, hit a jumper while falling back, sunk deep threes and muscled his way through traffic to put the ball in the basket.

He aided the Cavaliers with a hard drive to the basket, where he drew contact, made the shot and converted on the free throw after a timeout. It was then that Cleveland took a 104-102 lead with under a minute remaining.

It was one specific call in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter that may have decided the game. It was a series of crucial calls in alternating moments of the contest that may have dictated the final results.

After the officiating crew reviewed a call late on the floor, James was then called on a blocking foul. The officials decided to overturn the inital call against Kevin Durant and determined that James was not in the legal guarding position.

Tyronn Lue was baffled by the ruling, blasting and questioning the refs on the sideline. James was confused by the reverse call, drawing near and complaining to the officials. And with 36 seconds left, Durant made two free throws to tie the game.

These Finals could only make for bad blood between Draymond Green and Tristan Thompson and between Curry and James, two superstars of their respective teams who had some words.

It ended with a bizarre foul called on Thompson and an ejection with 2.6 seconds remaining in overtime after he contested a meaningless shot. The overly loquacious Green taunted the Cavalier players. And with Game 1 in the books, a scuffle apparently escalated between Thompson and Green, who was the aggressor.

The most embarrassing image of the night came at the end of regulation. It seems what lays behind the tragedy is a player whose failure to know the score put the Cavaliers in a 1-0 hole.

Smith, quite tellingly, etched his name in history. That is, to be exact, negative history. But looking at it all positively, he’s not alone. The recent happenings will often be compared to the silly bloopers by Magic Johnson and Derek Harper in 1984.

This wasn’t the first time a player screwed up with much at stake. The only thing the Cavaliers should be worried about at this point is recouping and bouncing back from such an ugly scene.

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