Adam Lindner | Sports Editor
When Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith infamously dribbled out the last seconds of regulation during a tied Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals, thinking his team was in the lead, basketball fans everywhere quickly realized the immensity of the mistake Smith had made — heavily overpowered by Finals opponent and juggernaut Golden State, not many people anticipated Cleveland would be able to force a competitive series in the first place.
After all, the year prior, the Warriors had dispatched the heavily over-matched Cavaliers in five games. Then, during the ensuing offseason, All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving was traded to the Boston Celtics in a severely lopsided trade.
Now, Cleveland found itself back in the Finals for the fourth-straight season — right alongside Golden State — largely thanks to LeBron James’ otherworldly play both throughout the course of the regular season and during the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
The Warriors, on the other hand, fancied mostly the same, overwhelming lineup that had punished the Cavs in the Finals the summer prior.
So, as Game 1 inched closer toward the final buzzer, basketball fans everywhere gathered to see if the Cavs could steal home-court advantage from the Dubs in stunning fashion.
Instead, J.R. Smith grabbed a rebound off of a missed George Hill free throw, and instead of shooting instantly as the clock wound down, Smith ran toward the perimeter, thinking his main prerogative was to dribble the clock’s final seconds out.
And, just like that, Game 1 was headed to overtime thanks to Smith’s blunder — but NBA fans everywhere knew what was really happening. A masterful Game 1 performance from James was wasted by Smith’s mistake as the Warriors ran away with the game in OT, shattering the underdog’s chances of stealing an early game on the road against an unsuspecting opponent.
It only took the Dubs three more games after Game 1 to end the 2018 Finals, sweeping LeBron and the Cavs for the Bay Area team’s third trophy in four seasons.
A league accustomed to seeing copious amounts of player movement during the summer months, the NBA and its fans knew that the league’s landscape was soon to change in the coming months, but not exactly how. A pending unrestricted free agent, James had been rumored to be interested in joining either the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers, but nothing too substantial ever materialized, no matter how bad some may have wanted to see The King running alongside James Harden and Chris Paul, or Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
Others were set to hit the open market, as well, including Paul George and Paul, but nothing too monumental is truly set into motion during NBA free agency until big fish like James are secured.
Months later, we stand only weeks away from the beginning of the 2018 season, and some of the Association’s most notable names have found new homes within the league. Some of these transactions, along with some other movements, have basketball fans geared up and ready for another season of professional basketball. Below are a few of the league’s most exciting storylines to follow as the beginning of the new season inches closer and closer.
Three storylines to watch as the 2018 NBA season nears:
1.) LABron —
Debatably the world’s top player, LeBron James made the decision this summer to join forces with one of the world’s most recognizable sports teams in the Los Angeles Lakers, and the world just can’t wait to see how it pans out.
In a basketball sense, it might take some time for James and his new teammates to mesh before extreme success can be expected on the court. In a stacked Western Conference, the Lakers may struggle out of the gate, as the team boasts no viable co-star for James. Young stars Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma should each benefit greatly from playing alongside Mr. James, but each figure to experience their fair shares of growing pains, too. Former LeBron foes Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson will be joining the #LakeShow this year, too, making for one of the most entertaining rosters ever.
2.) Boston’s treasure chest of valuable guards —
Last year, Boston entered the new season figuring to be one of the league’s top title contenders, and definitely the East’s most talented squad. In the first game of the 2017 season, however, free agent acquisition and All-Star Gordon Hayward fractured his tibia, and Kyrie Irving was sidelined for the remainder of the season before the postseason began. In their places, younger Celtics players Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier played exceptionally well, leading Boston to seven games against eventual Eastern Conference champion Cleveland.
Seeing how talented this team can be when healthy — and how Head Coach Brad Stevens divvies up the group’s minutes — will be wildly entertaining.
3.) The North welcomes Kawhi —
Surely, those on social media within the past week have become acquainted with the “Kawhi Laugh,” a hilarious clip of the notoriously quiet Leonard awkwardly forcing a laugh during his first official media appearance with his new team, the Toronto Raptors. Jokes aside, the coming year is a big one for owner Masai Ujiri and his team; betting on Leonard in return for franchise corner piece Demar DeRozan was gutsy — but could pay off majorly.