Fate can be so cruel.
It looked to be the moment of the game. Stephen Curry had an open lane in front of him to the basket. It was a routine layup, but at the last second, Kyrie Irving came from behind Curry and lunged for the ball. His fingers tipped the ball just enough to shift the ball’s trajectory and instead of kissing off the backboard into the net, the ball landed back on the court.
Irving’s block kept the game tied at 98-98, with 24.1 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. But Irving’s block would prove to be fateful. LeBron James’ last second shot followed by a toss in the air by Iman Shumpert that almost went through the net couldn’t seal a Cleveland Cavaliers victory. Game 1 of the NBA Finals was going into overtime.
A minute and 43 seconds later, the Golden State Warriors scored the first two points of overtime. 44 seconds later, the Warriors added two more points to increased the lead to 102-98. That’s all it would take. The Cavaliers missed eight shots before James made a driving layup with nine seconds left in overtime, handing the victory to the Warriors by a score of 108-100.
But the game’s biggest moment wasn’t Curry’s four free throws that increased the lead to 102, nor was it James’ miss and Shumpert’s miss at the end of regulation. The game’s biggest moment was Irving blocking Curry’s layup. Had Irving just let Curry go, there is a 99.9% chance Curry makes the layup and the Warriors go up 100-98, leaving the Cavaliers one opportunity to either tie or win the game
Instead, Irving blocked the shot; the game went into overtime, where tragedy struck. Irving lost balance and landed awkwardly on his left knee, the same knee that has been causing him problems in the playoffs. He got up and began limping up the court when Harrison Barnes nailed a three-pointer to increase the Warriors lead to 105-98. The last image of Irving viewers saw was a man writhing in pain as he limped his way to locker room.
What if he had just not blocked the shot?
It would’ve been an injustice if he hadn’t. Irving’s block is indicative of how intense Game 1 of the NBA Finals was. It was a back and forth contest that at first didn’t seem it would be. The Warriors weren’t shooting well in the first quarter, going 6 of 20 from the field and trailing the Cavaliers by 10 entering the second quarter. That’s when the game kicked into high gear as both teams traded the lead throughout regulation.
James was having his best NBA Finals performance, scoring 42 points in regulation and Curry and Thompson were making key shots, keeping the Warriors close by the Cavaliers. Golden State’s bench was outperforming Cleveland’s bench, scoring 34 points to 9 points. Andre Iguodala even made a three-pointer with only one shoe on.
And then the block happened. Irving’s block kept this instant classic going, but opened the door to five extra minutes on the court on a bad knee. After going 23 points with 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks, the knee couldn’t go anymore and neither could the Cavaliers.
Game 1 was a taste of what this year’s NBA Finals is going to be. It is going to be a war of attrition. Which team can outlast the other? Which team can score a couple more baskets than the other? Which team can block a game-winning score for a chance at victory? Both teams displayed answers to these questions, but one of the answers paid a hefty price. By the looks of Irving’s face as he limped to the locker room, the pain was worse than the agony of defeat.
As fate would have it, the Cavaliers weren’t going to win this game even if Irving didn’t block Curry’s layup with 24 seconds left in the fourth quarter.