By now, you’ve probably seen the viral video of the Cavaliers bench from the end of regulation in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
In it, a frustrated LeBron James, George Hill and J.R. Smith can be seen following Smith’s end-of-game gaffe and Hill’s missed free throw. James can also be seen asking head coach Tyronn Lue if the Cavs have any timeouts remaining.
Once he gets the answer that yes, the Cavs did indeed have one timeout left, James puts a towel over his head in disbelief. The uncut footage was originally tweeted out by ballislife.com on Monday.
On Tuesday following the Cavaliers practice at Quicken Loans Arena, James was naturally asked about his reaction, which has drawn some criticism. He did admit he hadn’t seen the video, as he is in full Zero Dark 23 mode on social media, but still walked reporters through what he was thinking.
“So if I remember, yeah, I was sitting on the bench and kind of just contemplating the last couple seconds of what just happened, what expired, from J.R. dribbling the ball out, to G-Hill missing the free throw, actually seeing Draymond [Green] step in early on the lane violation,” he said. “Asking myself did I have a lane to actually drive it if I didn’t. So there were a lot of things playing through my head.”
James continued to go on in detail about why he asked Lue if there were any timeouts remaining once he was on the bench. James pointed to the fact that he began signaling for a timeout as the fourth quarter clock expired; but he also claimed that in the moment, he began second-guessing if they even had a timeout left.
James said he then began to think that maybe it was for the best that the referees didn’t see him, citing Chris Webber calling a timeout that the Michigan Wolverines didn’t have in the 1993 NCAA national championship game.
“When the game clock went off before J.R. kind of threw the ball to G-Hill to the corner, I actually tried to call timeout,” he said. “I don’t know if I had enough time because I was kind of a little bit still in shock of what was going on at that point in time. I got to the bench, first thing that came to my mind I was like, OK, I was calling a timeout.
“But hopefully, I’m glad maybe if we didn’t have any, I’m glad they didn’t give it to me. I didn’t want another C-Webb incident. If that happened, then they go to make their free throws and the game is over. So I asked our coaching staff if we had a timeout. And they told me, yes. I guess y’all probably seen the reaction from that point on.”
James continued to clarify that finding out that the Cavs did in fact have a timeout left made the fact that the referees didn’t see him more “heartbreaking.” But regardless of what he was feeling in that moment, his reaction on the bench has drawn criticism for the amount of emotion he showed, combined with the fact that he wasn’t outwardly vocal with his teammates in the footage.
But heading into Game 3, criticism about Game 1 is hardly in the forefront of his mind.
“Me? Me being criticized? No. You’re saying I got criticized for something, right? I don’t believe that. Not me,” he quipped sarcastically. “I don’t care. I don’t care at all. I mean, we’re in the NBA Finals. I mean, how much more picking up of teammates do you want me to do? I’m in the NBA Finals, looking for a championship.”
James has a point: what else was he supposed to do in that moment? His teammates agreed with him.
“I mean, I don’t know what he had at that point, but he ended the game with 51-8-8, so he did a lot,” Kevin Love said. “He’s been leading us and been great, not only this season, but seasons past. It’s natural for him to put out such a good effort and be frustrated.”
“Of course during the course of a basketball game, there’s times where you’re frustrated,” Tristan Thompson added. “Obviously the camera is always on LeBron whenever he does something. But there are times in the game when we’re all frustrated, Coach is frustrated, players frustrated. At the end of the day, we’re a group and we’re a team.”
And while so much focus has remained on that Game 1 ending, it’s certainly best for the team that James is focused on Wednesday night’s Game 3.
“We have an opportunity to come home and protect home, as Golden State has done,” James said. “We look forward to the challenge. It’s a very tall task. A very tough challenge, as I mentioned before the series even started, going against these guys, going against this team. But we have an opportunity to seize the opportunity. So I look forward to that.”