J.R. Smith played his first game with the Cleveland Cavaliers back on January 7 against the Houston Rockets. With LeBron James nursing a pair of nagging injuries, Smith was inserted into the lineup without a practice or a face-to-face meeting.
Before the game, Smith was asked how he would fare in his first game not knowing what the Cavs like to run.
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“Worse come to worse … my motto is, ‘When in doubt, shoot the ball.’ So when in doubt, I’m going to shoot it, and hopefully that don’t catch nobody off guard.”
Smith did shoot the ball, five times to be exact, and bricked them all.
Smith found his stroke with the Cavs the next game, however, putting up 27 points against the NBA’s best Golden State Warriors. Has been an absolute godsend as a floor-spacer as well as an athletic wing defender. He’s had crazy games of six or more three-pointers made as well as games with no three-pointers made. But Smith continue went out and competed and eventually found his shot.
Now in late April, Smith has had two very bad games when the Cavs have needed him most. In Game 1 of the Cavs’ first round playoff series against the Boston Celtics, Smith shot just 3-for-9, scoring nine points in 19 foul-plagued minutes. In Game 2, Smith shot even worse at 3-for-12, finishing with seven points in 34 minutes.
He did have a different impact for Game 2, however, coming up with a career high five steals. David Blatt was very happy with Smith’s play, as he’s not only on the floor to shoot, but for his overall game. Despite the bad shooting nights, Blatt kept his starting shooting guards spirits up.
“Tell him to keep shooting,” Blatt said. “Take his good looks and tell him to keep shooting, that’s just what I’ve told him.”
Still, Cleveland went up 2-0 in the series with Smith shooting an atrocious 6-for-21 from the field (28.6%) and 3-for-15 from deep (20%) in two home games.
So for Game 3 in Boston, Smith decided to change his routine up a little, as teammate LeBron James said:
“J.R. said he was going over early, I said, ‘I’m going with you.’ I think the way he approached it this morning trickled down into tonight.”
The 8:30 am shootaround with James seemed to help, as both Smith and James were locked in. Smith scored 15 timely points on 6-of-12 from the field. He hit a barrage of tough shots from all over the floor, including this improbably fadeaway in front of the Celtics’ bench that had them saying, “hell no, hell no, no way.”
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After the shot went in, Smith took a short glance at the Celtics’ bench as if to say, “hell yes.”
Smith’s shooting helped keep the Cavs ahead when Boston made a late run. LeBron James commended Smith after the game:
“And he said at the end, it doesn’t matter if he’s playing in New York, or Cleveland or Denver or Timbuktu, all he cares about is winning. For a guy that’s been highly scrutinized throughout his career, saying he’s not a team guy and takes bad shots and he follows around everyone else, I think it’s unfair to him.