From LeBron James scoring a playoff-career high of 51 points to Kevin Love showing no ill effects after clearing the league's concussion protocols before Thursday night's tip-off to add 21 and 13 rebounds, the Cavaliers were poised to steal the opening game and home-court advantage from the Golden State Warriors as the fourth chapter of their NBA Finals rivalry opened.
Then came the reversed call via replay review that rightfully frustrated James after he thought he successfully drew a charge on Kevin Durant.
Followed by the missed free throw with 4.7 seconds to play in regulations that may haunt George Hill and cost the Cavaliers their best chance to win Game 1.
Followed by the still yet to be fully explained gaffe by J. R. Smith after his offensive rebound of Hill's missed free throw that prevented Cleveland from getting any potential shot in those final 4.7 seconds to again steal the win.
Each action when stacked on top of the other proved too much weight to bear for the Cavaliers as the Warriors took full advantage of that second chance in overtime, riding the all-around game of Draymond Green to score 15 of the first 19 points in the extra period en route to a 124-114 victory. Green finished with a stunning line of 13 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists, five steals and two blocks to augment a 29-point game, nine-assist game from Stephen Curry and 26 points from Durant.
Dating back to 1984, only Michael Jordan (1989) and Rajon Rondo (2009) had recorded 13-11-9-5 games in the postseason.
The challenge James and the Cavaliers face trying to bring the series back to Cleveland even at one game apiece is to not wear those final 36.4 seconds of regulation like an albatross around their collective neck Sunday night. The post-game frustration was clearly evident in both James and coach Tyronn Lue, with the latter railing about the reversed call to the former walking out of the press conference when asked one too many times about whether he thought Smith knew what the score was.
For Golden State, the victory provided escape from what would have been an intense public inquest of all their mistakes over the course of 48 minutes before pouncing on a demoralized Cavaliers team in the extra five. The defending champions struggled all night on the boards, failed to stop James consistently and could not create game-breaking separation with one of their trademark scoring bursts in the third quarter.
Perhaps stopping James would have been easier if swingman Andre Iguodala was healthy enough to play, but there is no guarantee the veteran will be available for this contest. The 2015 NBA Finals MVP has missed the last five games with a lateral leg contusion suffered in a collision with James Harden late in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, and coach Steve Kerr labeled him "doubtful" for this contest Friday.
The series will move to Cleveland after this contest, starting with Game 3 on Wednesday night.