- We were about five seconds from actually having an interesting series and then J.R. Smith sent NBA fans everywhere into hysteria.
How? Why? I say this with not a hint of hyperbole: J.R. Smith made the biggest mistake I’ve ever seen an NBA player make Thursday night. There is nothing more fundamental to the game of basketball than the literal score. It’s what separates humans from animals. It’s one thing to forget the score during a January game in Milwaukee. But forgetting the score during the NBA Finals? When you have a chance to beat the Warriors on the road? How is that possible? (J.R. said after the game he knew it was tied. I don’t believe him for a second.)
J.R. made the type of mistake in the Cavs' 124-114 loss that you only hear about in comedic sports movies. Like, 20 years from now J.R. is going to come out of the shadows and become a local hero by coaching a bunch of middle schoolers to a state title or something. That’s how absurd of a blunder that was. Let’s go over how exactly Smith ruined Thursday, when he dribbled the ball away from the paint during the waning seconds of a tie game.
1. An all-time performance from LeBron James. I’m sorry, but LeBron deserves so much better than this nonsense. We clown the Cavs’ supporting players a lot. And you know what? Outside of Jordan Clarkson, they weren’t terrible in Game 1. But the least you could do is know the score of the damn game. LeBron is out here dragging this team to the Finals, and the thanks he gets is his starting shooting guard not realizing the game is tied? James was INSANE in Game 1. You know how before the game you told your buddy, “Cleveland has a chance if LeBron scores 50!” Well, guess what? That’s what he f---ing did! James put the team on his damn back and almost won a game against four Hall-of-Famers by himself. He was incredible in the second half, making all the right plays down the stretch. The man put up 51 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in a Finals game against one of the best teams in history and all he has to show for it is a 10-point loss. I’m sick for LeBron. If James never speaks to J.R. again for the rest of his life, he would be completely justified in doing so. LeBron was flawless Thursday. And all anyone will ever remember from arguably his greatest Finals performance is one of the most inexplicable mistakes ever made.
2. The jokes. Hoooooooo boy. Twitter would have come for the Warriors if they had blown Game 1. Golden State is an absolute juggernaut. I love Stephen Curry, even if he can’t convince me he has a dark side. Look at all these cool stats about his shooting! But there are only two things that unite my timeline: The New York Times op-ed section and the Warriors losing Finals games. KD unclutch in the second half? Steph dancing too much? Draymond looking over the hill? Every nonsense narrative would have come out if the Cavs held on for the win. But J.R. had to take away all our joy. Instead of enjoying what could have been the Warriors’ only loss in the series, KD gets to slide on another so-so performance. Instead of clowning Draymond for bricking wide-open threes, we had to watch him showboat during overtime. Instead of LeBron shimmying at Doris Burke during his postgame interview, Steph gets to smirk his way through clichés. We lost a whole night of Warriors roasting. And it’s not like we get a J.R. roast to make up for it! That play was infuriating, not funny.
3. The Finals. Look, maybe Smith doesn’t even make a shot if he attempts a putback. Maybe the Warriors lose, realize how good they are and dominate the next four games anyway. But for 47 minutes and 55 seconds, the Cavs had me really believing they could do this thing. I was telling myself in my head, if Bron scores 45 a night, Kevin Love hits a couple threes and Jordan Clarkson gets sent to the Phantom Zone, Cavs in 6. But J.R. woke me up from that dream by opening a dam of cold water on my face. How do you respond to something like that if you’re the Cavs? You’re a massive underdog, you have a chance to pull off an upset but one of your veteran starters couldn’t keep track of the score during Game 1’s literal most important moment? The mental toughness it takes just to compete with the Warriors is already ludicrous. If I played for Cleveland, I wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about the J.R. play for the rest of the series. It was that absurd.
There are so many things to discuss after Game 1. Durant’s mild struggles. The Cavs living up to the moment. The controversial block/charge call in the final moments. But all I will remember is J.R. Smith, a man who was probably unfairly mocked too often in his career, almost single-handedly ruining one of the most legendary Finals performances of all time. Is it unfair for me to put all this blame on Smith? YES! Definitely! Especially when George Hill missed the go-ahead free throw! Don’t get me wrong, this is an overreaction from someone who simply wants to see LeBron do really cool s--- every night until he retires. But if J.R. can irrationally forget the score during an NBA Finals game, I can direct my ire at him when LeBron goes 10-year-old-playing-2K on the Warriors and has nothing to show for it.
The Cavs may actually have to start a Roomba at shooting guard in Game 2. And at least those vacuums are aware of their surroundings.