OAKLAND, Calif. — The Golden State Warriors had the best home-court advantage in the N.B.A., the season’s most valuable player and 40 years of bottled enthusiasm uncorked for the chance at another championship.
Those and a five-minute overtime were just enough for the Warriors to slip past LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, 108-100, Thursday in Game 1 of the finals at Oracle Arena. Game 2 is here Sunday evening.
“This is what we all dream of in the N.B.A., to play in the finals, to coach in the finals, to be part of all of this,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said. “Two great teams. The crowd was fantastic. It’s obviously more fun to win than it is to lose.”
The Warriors scored the first 10 points of overtime to overcome a game-high 44 points from James, a career-high in the finals.
Golden State’s fearlessly flinging guard, Stephen Curry, led the Warriors with 26 points, doing his biggest damage in overtime from the free-throw line.
Neither team scored in the first 90 seconds of the extra period before Curry made four free throws after being fouled on similar plays — a jump shot after faking the defender into the air. After the second, with 2 minutes 30 seconds left, he raised his arms to implore the crowd to cheer — which it did, with a chant of “M.V.P.”
“You just go into your move and make a read, and thankfully he bit on the pump-fake,” Curry said.
A half-minute later, Harrison Barnes drained a 3-pointer from the left corner, giving the Warriors their biggest lead of the night. James and the Cavaliers had no response. They shot 1 of 9 in overtime, the only basket a meaningless James layup with 9.5 seconds left.
“We couldn’t get a good look,” said James, one of just three Cavaliers to score a point after halftime. “We couldn’t get nothing to drop, including myself.”
Adding injury to overtime’s insult, guard Kyrie Irving left with an apparent knee injury and limped to the locker room after scoring 23 points and adding 7 rebounds and 6 assists. He has been struggling with tendinitis in his left knee during the playoffs, and there was no immediate prognosis for his availability for Game 2 and beyond.
“I hope he can play,” Kerr said. “You probably don’t believe me, but I mean that. You want everybody healthy. You want everybody playing. This is the dream of every player, to come to the N.B.A. finals and perform and compete. So I hope he’s O.K.”
The Warriors countered James’s muscle with primary contributions from the backcourt. Guard Klay Thompson had 21 points and the backup Andre Iguodala added 15, though his greatest contribution might have been smothering James at the end of regulation and in overtime.
The score was tied at the end of three quarters, 73-73, with the teams trading blows with the rhythmic cadence of a see-saw. When it was tied again in the final minute of regulation, Curry wiggled past defenders at the 3-point arc and stopped at the top of the key to drain a 2-point shot with 53.6 seconds left.
Center Timofey Mozgov, who had 16 points, made two free throws to tie the score with 31.9 seconds remaining. After a timeout, Curry’s promising drive to the basket was ended when his shot was blocked from behind by Irving, leaving the 98-98 game momentarily in the hands of the Cavaliers.
With Iguodala guarding him, James missed a 21-foot fadeaway jumper from the left wing. But the loose ball ended in the hands of Iman Shumpert deep in the right corner, in front of the Golden State bench. His quick flip beat the buzzer, but bounced off the rim.
“The whole bench thought it was going in,” Kerr said. “So we were lucky to get to overtime.”
Both teams had cruised to the finals to create a matchup between long-suffering franchises. The Cavaliers, part of the N.B.A. since 1970, have never won a championship. The Warriors had not played in the finals since 1975, when they beat the Washington Bullets to secure their only title since arriving in Northern California from Philadelphia in 1962.
Golden State had the best regular-season record (67-15), which earned home-court advantage over the Cavaliers (53-29). The Warriors’ 39-2 mark at home was the best in the history of the Western Conference.
But the Cavaliers had shown no trepidation on the road, where they were 6-1 before the finals. In the Eastern Conference finals, they beat the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks on the road in Games 1 and 2 on their way to a four-game sweep.
And they were far from intimidated in front of nearly 20,000 enthusiastic fans wearing matching yellow T-shirts provided by the Warriors.
James is in the finals for the fifth year in a row, and the sixth time in his career. He won titles with Miami in 2012 and 2013, earning the finals M.V.P. award both times. Game 1 represented the 28th finals game of his career.
No player on the Warriors had played in a finals game until Thursday. For a time, they looked out of place.
The Warriors made just 6 of 21 first-quarter shots, including 1 of 5 from 3-point range. They tried to defend James first with Barnes, then with Iguodala, but James shed them enough to score 12 first-quarter points as the Cavaliers used a 17-2 run midway through the period to temper the fans.
Cleveland led by as many as 14, and held a 29-19 lead after one quarter.
“We all had nerves that first quarter,” said Golden State guard Klay Thompson, who overcame a slow start to finish with 21 points. “You could tell just how we were throwing the ball around.”
But the Warriors, the best-shooting 3-point team in the league with a unique flair for ball movement, have the ability to look, in spurts, like the Harlem Globetrotters while turning even the best opponents into a facsimile of the Washington Generals.
Trusting their deep bench, the Warriors gnawed on the deficit as Curry rested on the bench early in the second quarter. The reserve power forward Marreese Speights, who missed the previous eight games with a calf strain, energized the home team and its crowd with back-to-back baskets, including a 20-foot jumper. Cleveland’s lead shrunk. Minutes later, James air-balled a 3-point shot, and Curry flicked a 3-pointer from the left corner that hit only net, tying the score at 36-36 with 4:13 left in the quarter.
With fans fully engaged, chanting, “Warriors,” Curry emerged from a timeout by draining another 3-pointer, then dribbling past James and making an off-balance left-handed layup.
The game found its equilibrium, turning into its expected high-energy showcase of top players.
Cleveland led at halftime, 51-48, thanks to J. R. Smith’s deep, last-second 3-pointer.
It was the type of shot that the Cavaliers needed at the end of the fourth quarter. Instead, the Warriors slipped away with the victory, their first in a championship series in four decades.
“If we win every game at home, we’ll be all right,” Curry said. “So that is a start.”