In the first game of the 2018 NBA Finals, J.R. Smith made one of the most memorable and costly mistakes in NBA history. Smith’s decision to dribble the ball outside of the three-point line rather than attempt a layup and try to draw a foul made no sense. George Hill‘s second free throw didn’t drop, and at the end of the fourth quarter with 4.7 seconds left, it could very well have given the Cleveland Cavaliers a win. It did, however, leave the game tied 107-107 and take it into overtime. It ended up with the Golden State Warriors winning 124-114. LeBron James was clearly frustrated, and so too was J.R. Smith. He seemed confused, believing that Cleveland had the lead. It’s a mystery why Smith did what he did, but his teammates were not happy. Either way, will J.R. Smith’s blunder affect the Cavaliers’ mentality going forward?
How J.R. Smith’s Blunder Will Affect Cleveland Cavaliers Going Forward
It’s been a rocky road for the Cavaliers this season, going through some big changes to their roster. It’s no secret that the linchpin has been LeBron James. After some solid performances in the Eastern Conference Finals, it seemed as though the Cavs had found their groove again. Watching Smith take matters into his own hands undid all the hard work Cleveland put in throughout Game 1 of the Finals. James scored 51 points, one of only two players in the modern era to score 50 or more in a Finals game (the other being Michael Jordan). He also managed eight rebounds and eight assists. Kevin Love chipped in 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to build on a strong performance.
It was clear, though, that Smith had no idea what the plan was. In a post-game interview, he told reporters that he knew the game was tied.
“No, I knew we were tied, it’s just, I thought we were going to take a timeout because I got the rebound,” Smith said. But when watching the game in those final seconds, he appears to mouth to James, “I thought we were ahead.” Whatever was going through Smith’s head, the miscommunication was obvious and highlights the troubles facing Cleveland going into Game 2.
Can the Cavaliers bounce back?
Everyone with access to the internet has found Smith’s blunder funny. Twitter has been ablaze with people creating memes about the error. How can the Cavs bounce back and take Game 2? James is working twice as hard, playing 48 minutes in each of the previous two games. Kevin Love has been hit or miss, but he needs to regain focus. Tristan Thompson has been strong in the playoffs so far, but the Warriors are a different beast. Draymond Green is one of the finest defensive players in the league, and in Game 1, he showed a lot of grit against Thompson.
With the Cavs lacking any clear strength outside of James, Love, and Thompson, Stephen Curry will hurt Cleveland with his speed and skill. Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant are going to shoot well, too. If hideous mistakes like the one Smith made are going to happen again, it’s over. When James tells you what to do in the clutch, you need to listen. The Golden State Warriors aren’t the dominant team they were last season. Applying a smart strategy is how the Houston Rockets succeeded in the first half of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Houston’s third quarter performance undid all of its hard work, but it proved that breaking down the Warriors isn’t impossible.
Ignore the blunder and move on
Forgetting those final few seconds of Game 1 needs to be a priority for the Cavs. They must focus on unraveling the Warriors in Game 2 by working together. Ignore the media, ignore the memes, and ignore the negativity. A shake-up of tactics is needed, and it’s clear that these kinds of mistakes cannot happen again. With the right mentality, another road loss isn’t necessarily a given.
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