CHICAGO - If it's free, then why is it so hard to get, especially in the clutch?
I'm talking about a free throw, the hardest easy shot in basketball. Man versus rim. Mind over matter.
For players such as Steve Nash and Mark Price, who are tied as the NBA's all-time leaders in free throw shooting accuracy with identical 90.4 percent clips, converting those freebies can define a career.
But for those who were not bestowed with the gift of a steady pulse, the free throw is 15 feet of hell. And those 10 seconds or less in which a player is mandated to shoot each free throw can turn into an eternity of mental torture.
The Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers combined for seven missed free throws in Game One of these NBA Finals. Kyle Korver, who made 16 of his previous 17 attempts, missed one. So did Kevin Durant, who is clipping 88.9 percent of his free throws in these playoffs.
But George Hill's flub with 4.7 seconds left in regulation was the one that mattered the most. It could or could not have changed Game One's outcome. Only a higher power knows.
When I was still new in the news business 25 years ago, our newspaper's editor-in-chief gave me an important pointer on how to sniff for news. "When a man gets bitten by a dog, that's not news. When man bites dog, that's news," he said.
By the same token, a made free throw is not news, but a missed one, at a crucial time, certainly is.
The point is, Hill was expected to make the unguarded shot. It's part of his job, one that pays him $20 million this season. Also, the dude is 32, has 10 years of NBA experience, and has 99 playoffs games under his belt. He was supposed to handle the pressure with aplomb.
With 10.5 seconds left in Game One of the 1995 NBA Finals, Nick Anderson went to the free throw line with his Orlando Magic ahead, 110-107. He missed both but was fouled after grabbing the offensive rebound. He also missed the next two and the Rockets went on to win in overtime.
The Magic were eventually swept and Anderson was never the same again. His free throw shooting dipped and went to a career-low to 40.4 percent in the 1996-97 season.
Kawhi Leonard missed a free throw that cost the San Antonio Spurs in Game Six of the 2013 NBA Finals which the Miami Heat captured in seven games. Kawhi redeemed himself and became NBA Finals MVP a year later.
Time heals all wounds but is 48 hours enough for Hill to recover from the mental drain and the emotional strain of Game One?
"J.R. has an uncanny ability to bounce back," said LeBron James, confident that his trusted shooting guard can recover from his meltdown. Hmmmm. last time I checked J.R.'s last name is Smith, not Houdini.
Down 0-1 in a best-of-seven series is never a good thing but the Cavaliers have plenty to be hopeful for. The team is 16-4 in Game 2s since 2009 and in six of Cleveland's seven losses in this post-season LeBron has been notorious for bouncing back, averaging 39.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists.
But here's the rub. Kevin Durant's shooting was on snooze control in Game One, a pedestrian 8-of-22 from the field. And the Cavs still lost. Do you really, honestly think KD will miss 14 shots in Game Two?
The Cavaliers outshot and outrebounded the Warriors in Game One. And they still lost.
"We're not broken," Cavs head coach Ty Lue told The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Not broken, yes, but unlike James Bond's dirty Martini, these Cavaliers are shaken and stirred. Badly.
"We have the blueprint," coach Lue added, alluding to Cleveland's capacity to beat Golden State.
The Japanese thought so, too, when they had the audacity to attack Pearl Harbor in 1941.
If history is the best teacher, we should by now know why the Warriors will win the 2018 NBA Finals. They did it in 2017. Against the same Cavaliers team that once had the dearly departed Kyrie Irving.
LeBron is a tough dude. That I give him. But his teammates are kind of iffy. They won't recover from the mental hangover of Game One and will lose Game Two by at least 10 points.