OAKLAND, Calif. — JR Smith turned from villain to Warriors’ fan favorite thanks to his memorable blunder.
Unfortunately for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Smith was a nonfactor Sunday night after his late-game mistake in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
After he inexplicably dribbled out the clock at the end of regulation in a tied game, Smith was basically invisible on a night LeBron James needed all the help he could get to keep up with Stephen Curry and the Warriors.
Smith made just 2 of 9 shots and didn’t make a single basket after the first quarter as the Cavaliers fell into a 2-0 series hole after a 122-103 defeat.
“Terrible,” Smith said of his performance. “I have to shoot the ball better. I have to defend better.”
The game started with Smith getting loud cheers from the Warriors fans, who booed him mercilessly in Game 1 after Smith slipped and fell into Klay Thompson’s leg, sending the Warriors guard to the locker room briefly with an injury.
That sarcastic support continued all game long, with Smith getting serenaded with chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” on a trip to the foul line in the first quarter.
“I’m always a person the fans like to talk to and heckle,” Smith said. “I like it. I’d rather they do that than not acknowledge me at all. I appreciate that.”
Smith was a prominent figure in Game 1 for all the wrong reasons. He grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed free throw by George Hill in the final seconds of regulation with the game tied. Smith then dribbled toward midcourt as if he was running out the clock and thinking Cleveland had the lead. The Cavs couldn’t get off a shot and lost in overtime.
James and coach Tyronn Lue raved about Smith’s ability to bounce back from tough moments but that didn’t happen Sunday.
“Not too much affects JR. I don’t think so,” Lue said. “He made shots. He had some good looks he didn’t make, but throughout the course of the game I don’t think he really got shots in a row to kind of get into a rhythm. So that was kind of tough on him. But we have confidence in J.R., and he’s just got to continue taking his shots.”
The Cavs will need much more from Smith when the series shifts to Cleveland for Game 3 on Wednesday night if they are going to match their comeback from a 2-0 deficit that they accomplished in beating the Warriors for the title two years ago and in the Eastern Conference finals last month against Boston.
James was his typical brilliant self but was unable to match the 51-point scoring performance he had in the opener as the Warriors made a stronger effort to pick him up quicker to make him work for everything.
James, who played with a bloodshot left eye after getting poked by Draymond Green in Game 1, finished with 29 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds. He made 10 of 20 shots from the field but was not nearly as efficient as he was in the series opener.
“The eye has looked a lot better,” James said. “My daughter doesn’t like the way I look right now. Yeah, she didn’t like the FaceTime that we had earlier. She was a little weirded out about it. But I’ll be fine. So everything’s good.”
The Cavs once again failed to take advantage of good looks from 3-point range that are apt to come with all the attention Golden State pays to James. They shot just 9-for-27 from long range and are at 35 percent for the series, a number that will need to improve if Cleveland wants to reverse the tide of the Finals.
Smith has been one of the Cavs’ best options from 3-point range, but he was just 1-for-4 in this game.
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