OAKLAND: LeBron James calls it the most frustrating loss of his 15-season career. His coach called it robbery. Now the Cleveland Cavaliers try to rebound and level the NBA Finals.
James scored a playoff career-high 51 points, the most in a finals game in 25 years, but the Cavaliers lost 124-114 in overtime to defending champion Golden State in the opening game of the best-of-seven title series, which continues in Oakland on Sunday.
Asked if it was his most frustrating loss, James replied, “Because it’s right now I would say yeah. I always live in the present. I don’t know how frustrated I was after a loss in the past.
“We played as well as we’ve played all post-season and we gave ourselves a chance possession after possession after possession. There were just some plays that were kind of taken away from us. Simple as that.”
A referee video reversal overturned a charging foul on Kevin Durant into a blocking foul on James that allowed Durant to level the opener in the final minute.
“I read that play just as well as I’ve read any play in my career, maybe in my life, James said.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue called the effort by James “epic” and added, “You hate to lose a game like that the way we did.”
“To do what he did tonight and come out robbed, it’s just not right.”
James also appeared exasperated at teammate J.R. Smith when Smith grabbed a late rebound inside with the game deadlocked and dribbled away from the hoop, Smith later saying he knew the game was tied and expected a timeout.
“I thought we were all aware of what was going on. I don’t know what J.R. was thinking. I don’t know his state of mind,” James said.
“We’ve got to move on. This game is over and done with. We had opportunities. I would never give up on J.R. That’s not my M.O. I don’t give up on any of my teammates.”
James, 3-5 in prior NBA Finals, is appearing in his eighth consecutive championship series, so he knows plenty more ebbs and flows of emotion are coming.
“We take this one. We understand how difficult and how challenging this task is,” James said. “You wake up tomorrow with a fresh mind and you move forward.”
And the Warriors, seeking their third crown in four seasons, know James will be even more determined in game two.
“We know he’s going to come out and be super, super aggressive,” Durant said. “It’s tough to stop him. We’ve just got to try to make it tougher on him. We’ve got to be patient and not get discouraged when he makes shots and just keep playing hard.
“They did a good job coming in and hitting us in the mouth. We’ve got to be better next game.”
Stephen Curry, who led Golden State with 29 points while Durant added 26, said the Warriors must play James tougher from the start in game two after he hit 9-of-11 shots for 24 points in the opening two quarters.
“We’ve got to come out next game and have more resistance against him to start the game,” Curry said.
“He’s still going to make some shots. That’s why he’s who he is. But some of them, if you play great defense, you can live with. You can’t really live with the ones we gave up in the first half.”
The Cavs, meanwhile, must try to keep their rebounding edge, which was 53-38 in the opener, the difference coming from a 19-4 advantage in offensive rebounds.
“Guys competed their ass off and we should hold our heads high because we did some great things,” Cavs forward Tristan Thompson said. “We’ll be much better and ready to play on Sunday.”