For a fourth consecutive year, it's Cleveland vs. Golden State. The Land vs. The Bay. The King vs. Curry.

The Warriors entered Game 1 as the heavy favorites, but that perception will backfire if their historically stacked roster fails to win a championship for the third time in the last four seasons.

As for the Cavaliers, their hopes start and end with LeBron James, whose 13th postseason run just might be his best yet in terms of individual dominance. He and the Cavs broke Cleveland's championship drought in 2016. Beating this Warriors team, with this roster, would arguably be even more impressive.

Cleveland was either blissfully unaware of its underdog status or fueled by it. The Cavaliers began the game with a punishing interior attack spearheaded by James and Kevin Love, who returned from injury.

LeBron James first-half shot chart, Game 1

Golden State responded behind 11 first-quarter points from Stephen Curry. The Warriors received an early scare when Klay Thompson went down with a left leg injury, but the All-Star forward returned after receiving treatment and re-taping in the locker room.

James sat just three minutes in the first half -- and the Cavaliers turned that window into an advantage. Larry Nance Jr. sparked a 7-0 run by Cleveland's bench, putting up eight points, seven rebounds and one steal in just under 10 minutes of first-half action.

First half box score, Game 1

After trailing by as many as 11, the Warriors outscored Cleveland 16-5 over the final five minutes of the first half. The run was punctuated by Stephen Curry's 38-footer as time expired, a shot that sent the crowd into a frenzy and, more importantly, tied the game 56-56 at intermission.

The Warriors' post-halftime runs are nearly legendary. Entering The Finals, Golden State had outscored this season's playoff opponents by a total of 130 points in the third quarter.

It looked like that trend would continue on Thursday night. The Warriors jumped out to a seven-point lead less than three minutes after halftime.

Cleveland, however, managed to absorb enough of Golden State's push to stay within striking distance heading into the fourth quarter.

James made his 46th career Finals game his most dominant one yet, finishing with a playoff-best 51 points -- and adding eight rebounds and eight assists, too.

The final minute of Game 1 was a mix of controversy and confusion. With 36.4 seconds remaining and Cleveland leading 104-102, James drew a charge on Kevin Durant -- but the call was reversed after official review.

After the free throws, James and Curry exchanged clutch shots that left Cleveland with possession but trailing 107-106. The Cavs earned a chance to retake the lead when George Hill earned a trip to the free throw line. The first attempt went in.

The second one did not.

Incredibly, Cleveland guard J.R. Smith wound up with the offensive rebound -- and a four-second window in which the Cavs could have broken a 107-107 tie.

Instead, thinking his team was ahead, Smith dribbled out the possession until time expired. Only after the horn sounded and seeing James' desperate pleadings for him to shoot did he realize his error.

In 36 seconds, a reversed call, missed free throw and a possible mental error had turned a potential Cavaliers victory into an overtime opportunity for the Warriors.

Alive and rejuvenated in overtime, the Warriors quickly scored nine unanswered points. The surge proved too much for the Cavaliers to overcome in a 124-114 Golden State win.

That, however, did not stop tempers from flaring late. LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson held a heated discussion in the game's latter stages.

The tipping point came when Cleveland big man Tristan Thompson was ejected for a Flagrant Foul 2 ... and then got into a shoving match with Draymond Green.

The focus now shifts to the space between Games 1 and 2. The Cavs must figure out how to improve upon a game in which James scored 51 points while receiving key contributions from several role players.

As for the Warriors, they are on par with their recent standard of excellence. Golden State has now opened 16 of its last 17 playoff series with a victory. Only two of those series ended in defeat.

Game 2 will tell whether the Warriors are on firm footing to keep that streak -- and their hopes for another NBA title -- alive.




Warriors lead series 1-0


NBAE/Getty Images

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