J.R. Smith embraces role as Cavalier’ best on-ball defender
Tonight, the defending champs will kick off the Eastern Conference Semifinals with a match-up against the Toronto Raptors inside Quicken Loans Arena at 7:00 p.m. EST. There will be several key positional battles in Game 1. However, Smith, who is expected to guard NBA All-Star DeMar DeRozan, may have the toughest task before him.
While it’s true that Smith is a great three-point shooter, he is also a scrapper on the defensive end of the floor. In fact, Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue often calls Smith his “best defender.” During his media availability after yesterday’s practice, Smith spoke of what that title means to him.
“I like it a lot,” Smith said. “I like taking the challenge myself as well as my teammates. They challenge me and my coaches challenge me, so, to live and die with their best guy, I mean I like that challenge. It’s something I wish I would’ve took more pride in as a younger player. But, I’m extremely excited to be in that position. It just took me a while to kind of grasp that that could be my niche.”
In Cleveland’s first-round match-up against the Indiana Pacers, coach Lue elected to have Smith guard Paul George on several occasions. For the most part, Smith did a fine job. However, there was a bit of a dip in his offensive production (6.8 points per game in the first round). In his last two playoffs performances with the Cavs, Smith averaged 12.8 and 11.5 points.
“I don’t think we need that for us to win,” Smith said about his offensive input. “We swept with me getting five shots a game, so I’m not really focused on it. If it happens, it happens. But I’m not going to turn down my offense, hell no.”
That’s right. Just let it fly, J.R.