After an eight-day break, the NBA’s top teams and biggest stars put on quite a show.
Only one kept it up for 53 minutes.
And only one survived without a serious injury.
Stephen Curry had 26 points and eight assists, and the Golden State Warriors held off LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for a thrilling 108-100 overtime victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.
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“It was just a classic five minutes that we needed to get that win,” Curry said of the overtime.
In the Finals for the first time in 40 years, the Warriors gave their long-suffering fans quite a treat. They rallied from an early 14-point deficit, absorbed a Finals-best 44 points from James and shut down Cleveland in overtime.
James shot 18 of 38 from the field and had eight rebounds and six assists in 46 minutes. But the four-time MVP missed a long jumper at the end of regulation, and Cleveland missed its first eight shots of overtime — and 12 straight going back to the fourth quarter.
“We got to do more around him,” Cavs coach David Blatt said.
Adding to the Cavs’ frustration, point guard Kyrie Irving limped to the locker room after aggravating his troublesome left knee in overtime. He did not return.
With Kevin Love already out, the Cavs obviously need Irving. He missed two games in the Eastern Conference Finals because of knee and foot injuries and sounded unsure of his status for Game 2 on Sunday in Oakland.
“Obviously you can see in the tone of my voice I’m a little worried,” Irving said.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he hopes Irving is able to play the remainder of the series.
“I mean that,” Kerr said. “You probably don’t believe me, but I mean that.”
There were 13 lead changes and 11 ties in a game tightly contested across the board. There was little edge in shooting (Warriors 44.3 percent, Cavaliers 41.5 percent), rebounding (Warriors 48, Cavaliers 45) or assists (Warriors 24, Cavaliers 19).
The biggest difference might have been the benches. The Warriors’ reserves outscored the Cavs’ 34-9, with J.R. Smith the only Cleveland reserve to score — and he was 3 of 13 from the field.
In the end, it came down to the biggest stars making plays — or not.
James and Curry carried their clubs through the fourth quarter, trading scores and assists in a back-and-forth duel in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 — most wearing those blinding, golden yellow shirts. Both also had a chance to win the game in regulation.
Curry, the current MVP, beat Irving off the dribble and moved in for the go-ahead layup. Instead, Irving blocked Curry from behind, Smith came up with the rebound and the Cavs called a timeout with 24.1 seconds left.
James, trying to end Cleveland’s 51-year championship drought, dribbled down the clock and missed a contested jumper over Andre Iguodala just inside the left arc, and Iman Shumpert’s desperation shot nearly rimmed in at the buzzer, sending a collective sigh through the crowd.
The Cavs never came so close again.
Curry drew two deep shooting fouls at the start of overtime and made all four free throws, and Harrison Barnes hit a corner 3 just in front of the Cavs bench to give Golden State a 105-98 lead with 2:02 to play and send the crowd screaming at full throat.
Irving, who finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists, limped to the bench trying to shake off his troublesome left leg after the play. He was replaced by Matthew Dellavedova.
The Warriors went ahead 108-98 on free throws with 1:16 to play. James’ layup with 8.9 seconds left accounted for Cleveland’s only points in overtime.
James, who missed three shots and had two turnovers in overtime, walked off the court in frustration as time expired.
Klay Thompson, who wasn’t cleared to play until Tuesday after suffering a concussion last week, scored 21 points and Iguodala added 15 points for a Warriors team that started slow but closed with a flurry.
“That’s what we’ve been doing the whole year — wearing down teams,” Thompson said.
Both teams got through their early jitters and both stars were in full force.
James swished shots inside and out, looking calm and cool on basketball’s biggest stage to guide the Cavaliers to a 29-15 lead late in the first quarter. But the Cavs scored just two points in 4 minutes without James to start the second quarter as the Warriors came rolling back behind Marreese Speights and their second unit.
Curry returned and connected on his first 3-pointer with 4:21 remaining in the quarter, a quick-trigger release over James Jones in the left corner to even the score at 36-all. Curry stopped and stared at the crowd, giving a high-five to a fan in the front row, and followed with a series of scintillating shots.
But Smith turned in the final highlight of the half. His third 3-pointer – from 29 feet – in the final seconds put Cleveland up 51-48.
James carried Cleveland through a thrilling third quarter, but neither team could pull away. Iguodala’s emphatic dunk tied the score at 73-all heading to the fourth, and 48 minutes turned out not to be enough to settle this one.
Cavaliers: Cleveland is still seeking its first victory in the NBA Finals in franchise history. The Cavs were swept by San Antonio in their only previous appearance in 2007. … The Cavs had been 7-0 this postseason when James scores at least 30 points.
Warriors: Golden State is 47-3 at home this season, including 8-1 in the playoffs. … Curry has hit multiple 3s in 21 straight playoff games, tying Ray Allen’s NBA playoff record.
GETTING A JUMP
The Game 1 winner of the NBA Finals has a 48-20 series record. James’ teams are 18-2 in playoff series when winning the opener and 7-5 when losing Game 1. Curry’s Warriors are 3-1 in playoff series when winning the opening game and 1-1 when losing Game 1.