Going into the first game of the NBA Finals Thursday night, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers came in facing tremendous odds against Stephen Curry and the heavily favored Golden State Warriors.
With the defending champions retaining home court advantage in the series — the fourth consecutive time the two teams have faced each other for the NBA championship — Cleveland would seemingly have to play near perfect basketball to match the strength of Golden State, who boasts four All-Stars in their starting line-up. But through nearly four quarters of basketball, James and the Cavs answered back for nearly everything the Warriors threw at them.
With Cleveland tying the game with less than five seconds left in regulation, it looked as if they could pull off one of the most shocking upsets in NBA history when the ball fell into the hands of Cavs forward JR Smith, who was just feet from the basket as time ticked down. But instead of going for an easy shot, Smith seemingly went against the instincts of a typical professional basketball player and proceeded to run away from the basket, all the way to the three-point line, as precious time ran off the clock.
Watch for yourself here:
As James — who scored a tremendous 51 points — shouted at his confused teammate, Smith turned to him and seemed to mouth, “I thought we were ahead.” Though Cleveland player George Hill would throw up a shot just as the buzzer went off, the game would go into overtime, where the Warriors trounced the deflated Cavs, who, in the end, grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory.
Smith would later defend the move, saying he was trying to get a shot off and get away from Kevin Durant.
“I was trying to get enough to bring it out to get a shot off,” he explained after the game. “I knew we were tied, I thought we were going to call timeout. If I thought we were ahead, I’d have held onto the ball and let them foul me.”
But many didn’t buy the story, including reporters who asked James about what he thought Smith’s “state of mind” was during the play. The questions were enough for No. 23 to walk out of a post-game press conference (the exchange starts at 6:09).
After leaving the podium, James told reporters in the room “be better tomorrow.”
When Curry and Draymond Green were told Smith had said he was aware the game was tied, all Green could do was flash a confused look that got a laugh from reporters.
Needless to say, many on social media came out to voice their confusion about what Smith could have been thinking during those final four seconds. NBA players and other athletes watching the game were especially ruthless:
Naturally, many others cracked jokes or turned James’ reaction to Smith’s play into a meme.
The Cavs will have a chance to tie the series 1-1 on Sunday when they face the Warriors for Game 2 in Oakland on ABC.