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Warriors win bizarre Game 1 over Cavs despite LeBron’s 51

The enduring image from Thursday’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals won’t be one of LeBron James‘ powerful dunks or Stephen Curry‘s 38-footer to beat the first-half buzzer.

Instead, Game 1 will be remembered as the night JR Smith dribbled out the clock in a tie game.

A back-and-forth final five minutes culminated in Cleveland Cavaliers guard George Hill at the free throw line with 4.7 seconds remaining a chance to win the game. After hitting his first attempt to tie the score, Hill missed his second.

Smith recovered the rebound, but instead of firing up a shot that could have given Cleveland — a 13-point underdog entering the game — an unlikely road win, he retreated to the perimeter, thinking the Cavaliers held the lead, waiting for a foul that never came.

By the time Smith realized his mistake and passed, the clock ran out before Hill could get up a shot.

Given a second chance, the Golden State Warriors didn’t dribble it away. They scored the first nine points of overtime, pulling away for a 124-114 win to take a 1-0 lead in the fourth consecutive Finals matchup between the two teams.

Smith’s folly overshadowed a dominant performance by LeBron, whose 51 points were the most he’s ever scored in 46 career Finals games. Taking advantage of the lateral leg contusion and bone bruise that sidelined Warriors forward Andre Iguodala, their best defensive matchup for James, he started hot — scoring 12 points on perfect 4-of-4 shooting in the first quarter — and rarely cooled.

LeBron made 13 of his first 16 shots, running up 36 points by the midway point of the third as Cleveland held off the typical third-quarter Golden State run to trail by just six heading to the final period. There, James scored or assisted on nine of the Cavaliers’ 12 field goals, including a driving layup with 32.1 seconds left that gave Cleveland a 106-104 lead.

At the other end, Curry responded with a 3-point play that put the Warriors ahead with 23.5 seconds left. James held the ball at the top of the key, running the clock down for a final shot, when Klay Thompson fouled a cutting Hill away from the ball, sending him to the line for two shots and setting up a finish to regulation no one watching will ever forget.

To cap the bizarre ending, Tristan Thompson was ejected with 2.6 seconds remaining in overtime after a confrontation over Thompson’s aggressive contest on a meaningless Shaun Livingston shot, which earned him a flagrant 2 foul.

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LeBron James’ block of Steph Curry sets off tempers at the end of Game 1.

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