CHICAGO - In the course of his 10-year NBA journey, point guard George Hill has missed only 357 of 1,788 free throws in the regular season and 70 of 357 in the playoffs.
With 4.7 seconds left in regulation of Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals two days ago, the 80 percent career free throw shooter stood at the free throw line with the fate of the Cleveland Cavaliers resting on his battle-tested palms and fingertips.
A creature of habit, Hill went through his usual routine. He pounded three hard dribbles, caressed the ball gently, before bending his knees to a crouch and then firing away from 15 feet.
The first attempt knotted the score at 107-107.
While waiting for referee Ken Mauer to give him the Spalding for his second shot, Hill looked as uneasy as a suspect who was about to take a lie detector test. His breaths were unlabored but deep, hands on hips, and his eyes sported a dead, blank stare.
The second free throw went way short. Too much arc, and perhaps, too much pressure got into Hill's nerves.
"This one hurt. This one hurt bad, one of the worst feelings ever," Hill told The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Indeed, Hill's heartbreaking miss was the Game 1 killer for the Cavaliers. Nothing else.
Had Hill made that free throw, it would have spared J.R. Smith the chance to embarrass himself with his lack of awareness of score and time. But even if he attempted a quick putback instead of prancing away from the paint after grabbing the miss. there's no guarantee that the 6-foot-6 Smith would score against Kevin Durant, who is 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot wingspan.
I get it, the reversed charging call was what lawyers refer to as "the fruit of the poisonous tree" but the referees only did what they were allowed under the rules, which is to review everything else surrounding a questioned play.
"There were just some plays kind of taken away from us," LeBron lamented in his post-game press conference.
In his storied 15-year NBA career, James has been on the receiving end of thousands of favorable calls. And for him to now have the temerity to complain about officiating is a joke.
James was decked in a short suit that turned fashion heads all around but it was the salty mood he wore post-game that got more attention. LeBron toted a $41,000 Thom Browne alligator bag at his press conference but the pricey man purse couldn't handle Cleveland's Game 1 baggage.
There was plenty for LeBron to be mad about.
He scored 51, only the sixth human to do so in an NBA Finals. But he was also the first to lose a Finals game after such enormous feat. He played all 48 minutes and he has nothing to show for it except an 0-1 series deficit.
The Cavaliers outrebounded the Warriors 53-38, and they grabbed 19 offensive rebounds that resulted in a 21-10 advantage in second-chance points. Kevin Love had 21 points and 13 rebounds and Cleveland still lost anyway.
As previously noted, Golden State State simply has too much firepower.
'Splash Brothers' Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 53 points on 10-of-21 shooting from 3-point range. Kevin Durant looked lethargic in missing 14 field goals but he still managed 26. Draymond Green (13 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists) flirted with a triple-double while the bench supported with 24.
The Cavaliers, heavy underdogs, worked hard, fought hard and manifested a hunger that the overconfident Warriors appeared to lack, but none of it mattered because to borrow Sun Tzu's wisdom, "the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."
As the Warriors showed poise, George Hill battled free throw line demons, J.R. Smith committed a mental breakdown and the rest of the Cavs folded in overtime.
LeBron James is notorious for rarely signing autographs. It might not be a bad idea to sign Cleveland's Instrument of Surrender in these NBA Finals.
I hate to be redundant, but just in case you missed my previous column let me say this again - Warriors in four.