Finals Game 1: The 5One That Got Away

No, it wasn’t JR Smith losing track of the score and not going back up with a shot with 4.7 seconds left after George Hill missed a free throw.

Unfortunately, the biggest play of Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals was made by three referees, who inexplicably changed a charge foul to a block foul, ultimately turning a Cavaliers’ two-point lead into a tie game with 36 seconds left in regulation.

Instead of writing about LeBron James’ greatest playoff game ever, where he scored 51 points on 32 shots with 8 rebounds and 8 assists while playing 48 minutes of a monumental upset in the making, we are forced to talk about the overturned call made by Kenny Mauer, Tony Brothers and Ed Malloy.


 May 31, 2018  CLE 114, GSW 124 OT  48  51  8  8  .692
 May 20, 2009  ORL 107, CLE 106  41  49  6  8  .712
 May 9, 2009  CLE 92, ATL 82  43  47  12  8  .733
 June 16, 2016  GSW 101, CLE 115  43  41  8  11  .672
 May 3, 2018  CLE 128, TOR 110  41  43  8  14  .682

Key: MIN minutes; PTS points; REB rebounds; AST assists; TSP true shooting percentage.

Source: Basketball-Reference


Instead of talking about the Cavaliers’ 19-4 offensive rebound advantage, we are forced to discuss an unprecedented overturned decision made by refs that would be a possible four-point swing. The reversal resulted in two Golden State free throws to tie the game at 104 instead of Cleveland having the ball with 36.4 seconds left and a two-point lead.

Instead of talking about the resulting end-of-regulation LeBron James layup, which led to a Stephen Curry layup-and-one three-point play, which led to a George Hill free throw followed by a miss, which led to the confusing J.R. Smith offensive rebound that saw him run out the clock because he may—or may not—have known the game was tied …

Well, instead of all that resulting mess that led to an overtime period, we still are stuck in the mud here talking about the officials’ overturned call that seemingly came from a rule loophole that changed the entire tenor of a Finals ballgame that finished on end-of-overtime scraps with Tristan Thompson and others which may result in suspensions for players when all is said and done.

It did not need to happen this way.

At the postgame press conference, Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue addressed the mess, saying, “They called a charge, right? And LeBron was clearly four feet outside the restricted area. It doesn’t make sense to review something if the review is [only done when] he’s on the line or close to the charge circle. He wasn’t close. So what are we reviewing? Either call a blocking foul or call offensive foul.

“For our team to come out and play their hearts out and compete the way we did, man. It’s bad. And its never been done before, where you know he’s outside the restricted area and you go overturn the call and say it’s a block. It’s never been done. Ever. In the history of the game. And then tonight in the Finals on the biggest stage when our team played well, played their a—off, man. It ain’t right. It ain’t right.”

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

It was such a shame to see this masterpiece splattered by replay-review revisionist history by officials, who otherwise called a pretty perfect game.

Consequently, this Game 1 ending was a hollow victory for the defending champion Golden State Warriors, and a gut punch of a defeat for the four-time Finalists Cleveland Cavaliers.

Game 1 goes down in the history books as a 124-114 overtime decision, but if we are honest with ourselves, it remembered as The Block-Charge Botched Call.

To reset the scene, Durant was driving the ball down the lane when LeBron stepped four feet outside the restricted area to take a charge on a bang-bang, block-charge call that could have gone either way.

Both refs Tony Brothers and Kenny Mauer simultaneously blew their whistles. Brothers deferred to Mauer, by checking down on his call with an extra long pause after his whistle. Once Mauer saw he was being given the non-verbal signal to make the call if he was sure, Mauer took the lead and signaled charging on Durant. Then, ref Ed Malloy noted he wanted to check to see if LeBron’s feet were inside the restricted area, which would have changed the charge to a block. All three refs convened at the TV replay area to review the call with officials in New Jersey.

Once convened, they all saw it was obvious LeBron’s feet were outside the restricted circle, which normally would have given the Cavaliers the ball, which is exactly what players on both teams expected once they saw the review themselves.

However, the three officials surprised everybody by continuing their review by using a little-known loophole in the rule book that allows them to overturn block-charge calls if they are being reviewed following restricted-area calls.

Thus, it was a legal maneuver on their part, even though many basketball veterans have never seen such a decision made before.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

“The block-charge thing,” said Durant at the post-game presser, wanting to address the elephant in the room. “Last year in the regular season, the same play happened to me. They called it a block, and they went and reviewed it and changed it to a charge. So I knew once it was 30 seconds to go in regulation that they can review that situation. There are a couple plays—like goaltending and block-charge—that they are allowed to review. They put those rules in where you can review them, just like you can review out-of-bounds plays. I knew LeBron was late on the drive. I knew I had my man beat and he came over a little late. When they called a charge, I was surprised. But I’m glad they reviewed it.”

LeBron had a totally different perspective from where he stood.

“I thought I read that play just as well as I read any play in my career,” said LeBron at his post-game press conference. “Defensively, I saw the drive. I was outside the charge line. Stepped in. Took the contact. It’s a huge play. It was a huge play.

“Tonight, we played as well as we played all postseason. We gave ourselves a chance, possession after possession after possession, there were some plays that were kind of taken away from us. Simple as that.”


By the way, LeBron James had his greatest playoff game ever (see box above) in a game that also became the greatest Game 1 Finals upset ever, if the 12-and-a-half point underdog Cavs had beaten the 2017 and 2015 NBA champion Warriors.

In the end, though, it just was not meant to be.

For instead of talking about a near-perfect performance by King James, we are talking about a replay review that splattered LeBron’s greatest masterpiece.