J.R. Smith said he knew the score, but no one involved, including his own coach, seemed to believe him.
Here’s the situation: The Cavaliers trailed the Golden State Warriors 107-106 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals when Cleveland’s George Hill went to the line for two free throws with 4.7 seconds remaining in regulation.
Hill, an .800 career free throw shooter, made the first but missed the second, with Smith skying over Golden State’s Kevin Durant to get the offensive rebound.
Instead of shooting or immediately looking to pass, Smith put the ball on the floor and made a beeline away from the basket, where teammate LeBron James was wildly gesturing for him to pass. By the time Smith did that, to Hill in the right corner, it was too late to get off a shot.
The Warriors went on to win 124-114 in overtime, with Game 2 slated for Sunday at 8 p.m. at Oracle Arena.
“He thought it was over,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said of Smith at the postgame interview podium. “He thought we were up one.”
Smith denied that in the locker room, telling reporters he was trying to get the ball to James or looking for someone to call timeout, but no one was really buying it, especially since even amateur lip readers could see him telling an angry James he thought the Cavs were ahead.
“I mean, you got to know the score,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “That’s just kind of basketball. You got to know if you’re winning or losing or tied. Like I said, we’ll take it. Sometimes it’s good to be a little lucky.”
James, who was clearly displeased while the incident was occurring, went out of his way not to criticize Smith in his postgame interview session, saying he always trusts and supports his teammates. When pressed on several occasions whether Smith knew the score, James grew silent, put down his hand-held microphone and left the podium.
Durant appeared to try to excuse Smith’s play, but ultimately ended up throwing more shade on the mercurial shooting guard.
“We’ve all done stuff like that on the basketball court,” Durant said. “You know, I can’t talk about a guy, like, I can’t talk about a situation that way because I do dumb stuff on the court. So I can’t really talk about that.
“But I’m glad we got a ‘W.’ I don’t know what was going through J.R.’s head, but he made a great rebound and gave them an opportunity to win the basketball game.”
Not to be forgotten, had Hill simply made the second free throw, the Smith incident would not have occurred.
“I don’t think anything got me through the night,” Hill said Friday in a conference call. “I stayed up most of the night re-watching the free throw, re-watching the play, just going over it in my head what I think went wrong.
“As a player, competitive guy, put in a situation to help my team win a game, and I didn’t come through. So for me, it sucked. It was one of the worst feelings ever.”
Lue talked with Smith after the game, but wouldn’t reveal what was said during his Friday afternoon conference call with the media.
“It’s a tough play,” the coach said. “If J.R. Smith doesn’t get the offensive rebound, they might get the rebound, call timeout and win in regulation.”
Live by the three ...
The Cavs went just 10-for-37 on 3-pointers (.270) in Game 1, with Kevin Love going 1-for-8, Jeff Green going 1-for-6, Jordan Clarkson going 0-for-3 (and 2-for-9 from the field overall in just 17 minutes), Kyle Korver going 1-for-3 and Smith going 2-for-6. Hill (2-for-4) and James (3-for-7) were Cleveland’s most efficient shooters from beyond the arc.
The Warriors also struggled much of the night, but heated up late to finish 13-for-36 (.361). Klay Thompson went 5-for-10 and Stephen Curry was 5-for-11.
Lue made a gutsy decision by starting Love and Tristan Thompson in Game 1, but the move paid off, as Cleveland held a commanding 53-38 edge on the boards, including a whopping 19-4 edge on the offensive glass.
Love finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds in 39 minutes, while Thompson had two and five while playing just 20 minutes. Larry Nance Jr. was very effective off the bench, especially in the first half, in finishing with nine points and 11 boards in 19 minutes.
“We’re very pleased with that, having (19) offensive rebounds,” Lue said. “I don’t think we capitalized on enough of those, but we did get (19) offensive rebounds.”
James needs 20 points to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,317) for the second-most in Finals history. He needs one more 30-point game to pass Michael Jordan (109) for the most in playoff history and one more 40-point game to pass Jerry West (8 in 1965) for the most in one playoff season.
** Smith needs five 3-pointers to overtake Derek Fisher (285) for eighth in playoff history and two points to pass Brad Daugherty (782) for sixth in team postseason history.
** Love needs one assist to pass Larry Nance Sr. (110) for eighth in franchise playoff history.
- With 51 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in Game 1, James became the sixth player to score 50 points in a Finals game and the first to lose that game. The record for most points is 61, set by the Los Angeles Lakers’ Elgin Baylor against Boston on April 14, 1962.
- The last time the Cavs dropped a Finals game in overtime was in Game 1 in 2015, when Love was already out with a shoulder injury and Kyrie Irving was lost to a knee injury. They won Game 2 in OT on the road and took Game 3 at home before dropping three straight to the Warriors.
- With Game 2 not until Sunday, Friday was an off day for both teams from a media responsibility standpoint. Golden State coach Steve Kerr and shooting guard Klay Thompson took part in conference calls, as did Cleveland’s Lue and Hill.
- Kerr called small forward Andre Iguodala, who has missed five straight games with a sore left knee, “doubtful” for Game 2.
- Golden State held a 24-23 edge in bench scoring in Game 1.
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