Programming note: Watch the 2015 NBA Finals Game 1 broadcast between the Warriors and the Cavs at 8 p.m. tonight. PT on NBC Sports Bay Area and streaming on the MyTeams app.
Take a big hit, put it back on a team in their home country, and then team that team up with a budding dynasty led by a generation shooter on the NBA’s biggest stage.
Put these ingredients together and you have the first game of the 2015 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Warriors, the start of a rivalry that defined the 2010s.
In Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals, the showdown was matched by the hype announced as LeBron James scored big, but the Warriors survived, winning Game 1 108-100 in overtime. In 53 minutes of play, each team showed courage, while injuries deprived the Cavs of their star power.
The course of each team in the final was different. Eleven months earlier, James announced that he was going to sign with Cleveland – who had drafted him in 2003 – after four years with the Miami Heat. The addition of James, who paired him with young goalkeeper Kyrie Irving and new All-Star star Kevin Love, placed the Cavs among the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Warriors dominated the NBA, finishing with 67 league wins.
Cleveland followed suit, ending the season on a 33-9 streak after a mid-season rally that brought JR Smith, Timofy Mozgov and Iman Shumpert to the list. Their dominance extended to the playoffs, as they only lost two games before the final.
But James’ supporting cast was hampered by the time the Cavs arrived at Oracle Arena. Love broke away from his left shoulder in Cleveland’s first playoff game against the Boston Celtics, putting James more in charge. Despite the conundrum, Cleveland’s “give the ball to Bron” attack worked at the start of Game 1. In the first 24 minutes, James flew over, bypassed, and passed through Golden State defense, helping Cleveland take the front 51-48. By the end of the third quarter, James had accumulated 31 points, three rebounds and three assists.
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While James was carrying, Irving shone, scoring 23 points, helping the Cavs push Golden State to the brink. But Cleveland’s chances, as well as Irving’s season, ended halfway through overtime when Irving broke his kneecap and collapsed to the ground. In the last two minutes or more, the Warriors took control, outperforming the Cavs 10-2 in the period.
The game marked the start of the Warriors’ annual journey to the biggest stage in the league. While James won championships in Miami, Golden State was still in its infancy. Although the Warriors have won 67 games, the core of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson had never played after the second round of the playoffs.
Their coach Steve Kerr finished his first season as coach after being poached from the broadcast booth the previous summer. Nevertheless, the Warriors’ youthful and balanced attack won the day. Curry scored 26 points, while Thompson added 21 points.
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But the game will still be seen as the start of the league’s preeminent rivalry. Twelve months after Game 1, the Cavs returned from a 3-1 lead to beat the Warriors and win James’ third title. A month after the upheaval, Golden State signed Kevin Durant, bringing together one of the largest talent collections in NBA history, helping the Warriors win two more titles. At the end of the race, the two teams would face off in four consecutive NBA finals.
In a league defined by its history, the first game of the 2015 NBA Finals was the start of a sports tale that will live in infamy.