Basketball: Cleveland Cavaliers come up short in NBA Finals Game One, LeBron James stands tall

Cleveland Cavaliers player LeBron James (left) goes to the basket against Golden State Warriors player Draymond Green (right) in the first half of Game One of the NBA Finals at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California on Thursday (June 4). -- PHOTO: E
Cleveland Cavaliers player LeBron James (left) goes to the basket against Golden State Warriors player Draymond Green (right) in the first half of Game One of the NBA Finals at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California on Thursday (June 4). -- PHOTO: EPA

Game One of the NBA Finals showed just how tough it is to be a Cleveland sports fan.

The Cavaliers got off to a strong start behind the stellar play of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and led most the game over a Golden State team that hardly looked like a "fluid" machine, as Rolling Stone magazine described them, only to go cold in an overtime that Cleveland fans felt should never have happened and lose 108-100.

With just seconds to go before the final buzzer, the Cavs towering Russian centre Timofey Mosgov, the first from his country to play in an NBA final, threw down a dunk. That would have sealed the game for Cleveland, but referees called him for travelling and waved off the points.

Replays, as the ABC Television sports anchors noted, showed Mosgov may not have travelled - and, later noted, that even if he had done so, the pro refs normally don't call it in that situation. Naturally, that popular Singapore sports word "Kelong!" started running through my head over and over, as I sneered at the refs.

A deflated Cavs team then went into the overtime missing nine shots and coughing up three turnovers to the Warriors. By contrast, Warriors star and NBA MVP Steph Curry, the NBA's most accurate free throw shooter, hit four from the line and Harrison Barnes added a 3-pointer.

That was the game.

"It was just a classic five minutes that we needed to get that win," Curry later said. Others Golden State players, including Coach Steve Kerr, breathed a sigh of relief.

But to add injury to insult - if I may turn that phrase around - Kyrie Irving went down, apparently with a leg injury, as he limped off the court angrily throwing a towel, in that overtime. Despite being not at full strength with a knee injury and tendonitis, Irving finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

While the Game 1 win was only the first in a seven game series, and accomplished on Golden States' home court, statistics historically have shown that the team that wins the first game of an NBA Finals goes on to win the series more than 70 per cent of the time.

Interestingly although the game was played in Oakland, the Cavaliers managed to fill their hometown arena here in Cleveland, the Q, even though there were no teams on the court. Instead they watched the action on the Jumbotron screens. Sports bars and restaurants nearby were also packed with customers glued to the game.

Not surprisingly, they exited with glum looks on their faces. For good reason. As the New York Times noted in a story yesterday, they used a set of metrics to determine the most cursed sports cities in the United States. Cleveland topped the list, followed by Atlanta, Buffalo, San Diego and Washington. Oakland, Golden State's home, ranked 9th on that list.

The dubious honour went to Cleveland based on statistics, including the fact that it has been 147 total sports seasons since its last national championship, dating back to 1964 when the Browns won the American football title. The Cleveland Indians baseball team twice came close to winning the World Series in 1995 and 1997, and James took the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007 but they were swept in four straight games by the San Antonio Spurs.

Certainly James did his part in Game One of these Finals to deliver on his promise of bringing a national championship to Cleveland last year when he left the Miami Heat, where he helped the team win two, to come home.

The four-time MVP now widely-considered the best in the game since Michael Jordan - and possibly enroute to exceeding the Chicago Bulls legend - shot 18 of 38 from the field grabbed a game-high 44 points and had eight rebounds and six assists.

Still it was not enough to steal an important first game on the road, and home court advantage.

Interestingly, though, the two titles James won with the Heat came both came after Game One losses. That is a statistic that will surely resurrect the hopes of Cleveland's die-hard fans as they await Game Two in Oakland on Monday morning Singapore time.