It was the fourth consecutive Finals matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors and James eighth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals, with the heralded superstar at arguably the top of his powers.
The most infamous moment of Game 1 came with 4.7 seconds remaining in regulation. Following a rebound on a missed free throw that kept the score tied, wing J.R. Smith dribbled away from the basket as the time expired, obviously forgetting information spread across the largest HD scoreboard in the country.
While social media went into a frenzy, James wept in the locker room. He scored 51 points, 22 points more than the next highest scorer from either team, on 19-34 shooting from the field in the 114-124 loss. Smith went 3-10 from the field and just 2-6 from three, finishing the contest with a game-low plus-minus of -22.
“I remember in that moment feeling the weight he carried just being LeBron James on a daily basis — just everything that comes with that, you felt the weight of it,” Kyle Korver would say of the moment.
However, while J.R.’s aloofness has become the defining moment of a series the Cavs would eventually lose in a sweep, James only felt “cheated” when the refs overturned a charging call on Kevin Durant with 36.4 seconds left and the Cavs up by 2.
It was one of two occasions on which James says he felt cheated, with the second being the Los Angeles Lakers’ Jan. 28 loss to the Boston Celtics.
While an official review of that game would reveal that Celtics forward Jayson Tatum did indeed foul James on a last-second shot at the end of regulation, there was no solace to be found on May 31, 2018.