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Kevin Durant nearly cost the Warriors Game 1

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J.R. Smith will go down as the goat of Game 1, but he only had the chance to blow the game because Kevin Durant let him.

2017 NBA Finals - Game Two Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Poor LeBron. The King did everything he could last night, racking up 51 points on 59% shooting, 8 rebounds and 8 assists and completely controlling the game. He was as close to perfect as you can be, and he had his Cleveland Cavaliers in position to win the game with 4 seconds to go. LeBron threw a pass to George Hill while Hill was being held, forcing the refs to call a foul. Hill nailed the first three throw, tying the game. Them it all went to hell:

Hill missed the free throw, but J.R. Smith grabbed the rebound...only to dribble away rather than attempt a putback, apparently thinking the Cavs were up 1 and he just needed to run out the clock. Smith caught a ton of slander for that (hey girl, are you J.R. Smith? Because you grabbed my rebound and then ran away), and it was an incredibly boneheaded play. But of course, that play never happens if George Hill makes the damn free throw, which may have won the games for the Cavs right there. Slander George Hill too y’all!

What’s going to be forgotten in all this is that the Warriors nearly blew this game in the most Warriors way possible. Watch that play again. Kevin Durant is lined up on the same side as J.R., with Draymond Green and Kevon Looney on the other side to try and keep Tristan Thompson off the glass. The ball bounces towards Durant and Smith, which should be a good thing for the Warriors- Thompson, a deadly offensive rebounder, now has no shot at the play. But Durant doesn’t box out hard, or really at all, and moves too close to the basket. The ball bounces far and J.R. Smith, six feet and six inches, beats 7 footer Kevin Durant to the ball.

This play sums up the two greatest weakness the Warriors have- they allow a lot of offensive rebounds, and they have a tendency to get lackadaisical, even in big moments. There’s an argument to be made that Steve Kerr, one of the league’s best coaches, screwed up here- the Warriors have a timeout still. Subbing David West or Zaza Pachulia in for Durant, who also routinely allowed the Rockets to beat him on the offensive glass in the last round, would’ve given Golden State more size and rebounding prowess. Once they hauled in the board, Kerr could have immediately called timeout, advanced the ball, and subbed Durant back in for a potential game-winning play. With the benefit of hindsight, that’s the right move (or keep Durant in and sub one of those giants in for Steph Curry, leaving Durant at the top of the play with LeBron and Jeff Green).

On the other hand, there’s the idea that you should trust your stars, especially in the biggest moments. Kevin Durant has six inches on Smith- he should have been able to get the rebound. He couldn’t, and had Smith been aware of the score, he could’ve either attempted a putback or called timeout, giving the Cavs an opportunity to draw up a play and get LeBron a look at yet another buzzer-beater. Kerr opted to trust in his stars, and it very nearly cost Golden State the game. But Smith didn’t know the score, the opportunity slipped away, and this play will now be remembered for Smith’s mistake rather than Kerr and Durant’s errors.

In a way, this play sums up the whole series- the Warriors, for all their incredible talent on both sides of the ball, have real vulnerabilities and weaknesses. But the Cavaliers are relying on guys like J.R. Smith to take advantage of those vulnerabilities. That, in the end, is why even a 50 point game from LeBron wasn’t enough, and it’s why the Warriors, for all their flaws, remain the heavy, heavy favorites to take home another title.