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NBA Finals: LeBron James, Cavaliers teammates have each other’s backs despite criticism

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, top left, sits on

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, top left, sits on the bench with George Hill, from bottom left, Kevin Love, third from left at rear, Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith during the second half of Game 2 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 3, 2018. Credit: AP / Marcio Jose Sanchez

CLEVELAND — LeBron James defended his actions and reactions during the break between the fourth quarter and overtime in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. His teammates defended James too.

James finished with 51 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in what he called “a heartbreaking loss.” But over the last couple of days, James has been criticized for not being a better leader and talking to his teammates or trying to pick up J.R. Smith, who didn’t know the score and essentially dribbled out the clock after grabbing an offensive rebound on George Hill’s missed free throw in a tie game.

The Warriors won in overtime, and lead the series 2-0. Game 3 is Wednesday night.

Video footage focused on the Cavaliers bench during the entire timeout showed James seething as he sat one seat away from Smith, and didn’t say a word to him. James’ put a towel over his head and rocked forward in his seat in disgust after coach Tyronn Lue said the Cavs had a timeout left.

Smith didn’t have any issue with James not talking to him or his teammates before the overtime.

“Actually, we all spoke about it after the game. We spoke about multiple plays,” Smith said. “He spoke to us. He spoke to us. He’s going to get criticized regardless. So, I mean, nobody over here is losing any sleep over what anyone else has said that’s not in our locker room, whether it’s our coaches or our players. It’s The Finals, and we’ve got to take care of business.”

James was asked Tuesday to go through what he was thinking on the bench at that time, and he laid out a number of things, including being concerned that the Cavaliers didn’t have any timeouts left. Had he known he might have tried to call a timeout sooner. Smith rebounded the ball with 4.5 seconds left.

But James said he was worried about a Chris Webber situation. Webber, while at Michigan, called timeout in the closing seconds of the 1993 NCAA championship game against North Carolina. The Wolverines were out of them. UNC were awarded technical foul shots, and a two-point lead turned into a four-point cushion.

“I didn’t want another C-Webb incident,” James said. “If that happened, then they go to make their free throws and the game is over.”

Kevin Love came to James’ defense amid the criticism, saying he always gives everything he has to his team and teammates.

“I don’t know what he had at that point, but he ended the game with 51-8-8, so he did a lot,” 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.

“As he mentioned, he didn’t want a situation where he could have called a timeout and we didn’t have any left. They’re shooting a technical and win the game in regulation. Tough situation to be in for all of us, but we move on. Game 1 is out of the way. Game 2 is out of the way. We have a great opportunity (Wednesday) to make noise here on our home floor.”

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