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.
Stephen Curry had 26 points and eight assists, and the Golden State Warriors held off a 44-point effort by LeBron James for a thrilling 108-100 overtime victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.
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 personal Finals best point total from James and shut down Cleveland in the extra session.
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.
“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.
Blatt had no immediate update on Irving’s status.
Game 2 is Sunday in Oakland.
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).
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 that had 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, J.R. 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 sent 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.
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.