In what will go down as one of the biggest blunders in NBA Finals history, Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith had a chance to help his team pull off an upset win in Game 1 on Thursday but instead did something no one could understand.
With 4.7 seconds left in regulation, Cavs guard George Hill stepped up to the foul line with his team down by one. Hill sank the first free throw to tie the game at 107. Then he missed the second, which set the stage for Smith’s blunder.
Somehow, Smith managed to grab the offensive rebound over the Warriors’ Kevin Durant, but instead of putting it back up for the win, Smith dribbled the ball back out to near the half-court line as if he were running out the clock.
Teammate LeBron James was yelling at him to shoot, knowing that the score was tied. Smith, seeing James yelling, then passed the ball to Hill in the corner, but time expired as Hill took a desperation three, which was blocked.
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“He didn’t know the score,” said announcer Jeff Van Gundy.
“That’s a bad mistake by J.R. Smith,” added his colleague Mark Jackson.
James could be seen calling for a timeout as Smith passed it to Hill, but it was too late.
this moment is going down in nba history pic.twitter.com/0BoTKFzXU0
— Whitney Medworth (@its_whitney) June 1, 2018
The game did go to overtime, but the Warriors rolled in the extra period, winning Game 1 by a final score of 124-114.
So what was Smith thinking? The ABC cameras focused in on Smith talking to James after the blunder and he seemed to say, “I thought we were ahead.”
“I thought we were ahead.” – JR Smith pic.twitter.com/OjCt4VMCEj
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) June 1, 2018
But then afterward, Smith said he knew the game was tied.
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“I was trying to get enough space because obviously KD (Kevin Durant) is standing right there,” said Smith. “I was trying to get enough space to bring it out to maybe get a shot off, but then I looked over at LeBron and he was trying to get a timeout, so I just stopped, and then the game was over.”
“I knew we were tied, but I thought we were going to call a timeout because I got the rebound. I’m pretty sure everybody didn’t think I was going to shoot over KD right there,” Smith added.
But Cavs coach Tyronn Lue relayed a different explanation.
“He thought it was over,” Lue said, talking about Smith.
“He thought we were up one,” Lue added.
— Karl-Anthony Towns (@KarlTowns) June 1, 2018
It was a golden opportunity for the Cavs to steal one from the heavily favored Warriors. James had an all-time great performance, scoring 51 points with eight rebounds and eight assists. They have another chance Sunday night in Game 2, but opportunities to beat the Warriors at home don’t come around too often.
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