A 51-point haul from LeBron James was not enough for the Cleveland Cavaliers to stop Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors from winning 124-114 in overtime in a dramatic game one of the NBA Finals in Oakland.
With the game nearly over, James jawed with both Curry and Klay Thompson, then Tristan Thompson and Draymond Green tangled moments later and made contact. After a replay review, Tristan Thompson received a flagrant two foul and ejection with 2.6 seconds left.
James was in utter disbelief as regulation ended in stunning fashion.
George Hill made the first of two free throws with 4.7 seconds left after being fouled by Klay Thompson, but when JR Smith secured the rebound of the second, he dribbled back towards half-court instead of shooting, apparently thinking the Cavaliers had a lead.
"He thought it was over. He thought we were up one," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.
Instead, the game went to overtime.
Game two will be played on Monday (AEST) back in Oakland, where the Warriors have won 18 of their last 19 postseason games.
In 2015, when the Golden State beat the Cavaliers to capture the franchise's first title in 40 years, the first two games of the series went to overtime — Golden State winning the opener and Cleveland game two.
James shot 19 for 32 to go with eight assists and eight rebounds in the opener of his eighth straight NBA Finals and ninth overall.
He notched his eighth 40-point game during this play-off run to tie Hall of Famer Jerry West's feat in 1965 for most in a single post-season.
James also equalled Michael Jordan's all-time record for 30-point games in the play-offs with 109 in his career.
He drove past Curry for a three-point play with 50 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. But on the next play was given a foul following a review with 36.4 seconds left, allowing Kevin Durant to convert a pair of free throws to tie it at 104.
The call had initially been a charge on 2017 Finals MVP Durant and James protested the change.
"I thought I read that play better than any play in my career," James said afterwards.
Durant struggled with his shot but wound up with 26 points on 8-for-22 shooting and nine rebounds.
Golden State got a serious scare when Thompson went down after Smith slid hard into his left leg at the 6:17 mark of the first quarter.
Thompson lay grimacing in pain then went to the locker room with what was called a bruised left leg that needed re-taping. He returned for the start of the second quarter to huge roars from the yellow-clad sell-out crowd and scored 24 points. He and Curry each connected on five three-pointers.
Curry drained one of those three-pointers that have been hard to come by this postseason to beat the half-time buzzer and Golden State shot 13 for 36 from deep.
Kevin Love returned from a concussion to provide a big boost for Cleveland with 21 points and 13 rebounds.
The Warriors missed the defensive presence of 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, who missed his fifth straight postseason game dealing with a bone bruise in his left knee.