- J.R. Smith and George Hill both came up small in the biggest moment of the Cavaliers' season. Smith's blunder has gained more attention for obvious reasons, but does Hill deserve some of that burden?
In the aftermath of the Cavaliers' collapse against the Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the focus was almost solely on J.R. Smith and his puzzling decision to dribble out the clock with both teams tied and time running out.
But before Smith secured the rebound that sealed his fate in NBA Finals lore, George Hill missed a free-throw that could have actually given Cleveland a one-point lead. Is Hill getting off easy? Should he shoulder some of the blame for the Cavs' 124–114 overtime loss? Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver wrestle with these questions and more on the Open Floor podcast.
(Listen to the latest Open Floor Podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Andrew Sharp: It is time to move to what I imagine will be the topic of the day. I feel like we're probably going to be watching replays of that J.R. Smith nightmare for years to come, and honestly I don't want to watch that play anymore. I've seen it looped on Twitter enough and it's painful to watch.
Ben Golliver: I like that you started this by saying how painful it is to watch that replay because when J.R. fell on Klay Thompson's leg in the first quarter I had flashbacks to how I blew my knee out. I got undercut in a very similar situation and it was actually the same leg. I always sort of flinch when I see plays like that. I can't help it; it's just subconscious. Watching J.R.'s blunder was more painful than that. So it's more painful than deep-seated, deep-rooted subconscious, traumatic pain. That's how bad it was.
Sharp: Can I tell you something? Before we move on, the first-quarter play with Klay Thompson. I have no doubt that that was a little bit dirty, but J.R. was also making a real play on the ball. I'm really glad that Klay Thompson is healthy because it wouldn't be the same series without him, but also I feel like if he had been seriously injured J.R. Smith would've been turned into Kermit Washington because of the amount of people on the internet who are just isolating him undercutting Klay at the very end, detached from any contact. It would've gotten really ugly and it would've been a little bit frustrating.
Golliver: Even the venture capitalists who could afford the five-figure seats for Game 1 of the NBA Finals were ready to throw those $18 beers onto the court. They were really upset after that happened. But back to the blunder, I agree that this is not on George Hill. Guys miss free throws; that happens. He made the one that was actually the tougher free throw. The first one is the more difficult shot.
The tricky part with J.R. is I can't tell if this was a strategy or an accident, because can we ever get inside J.R. Smith's head, as LeBron basically said on his postgame podium. "What do you mean? How am I supposed to know his mindset, it's J.R. Smith?" is essentially what he said. But he had two different explanations, Andrew. His first explanation seemed like the honest one where he essentially admitted that he didn't know the time and score and he thought that they were up and he was trying to dribble out the clock. His second explanation in the locker room was he was trying to dribble to freedom so that they could call a timeout because he knew the game was tied. Now, is this sort of like the alternative fact approach to what happened? Is he trying to muddy the waters so people can't blame him? Is he trying to pass the blame to maybe his coach or LeBron? Everybody else who might have been trying to call a timeout? Which version is true?
Sharp: First of all, when I heard his explanation we were in the main interview room but you showed me his quote where he said, "I thought we were going to call a timeout." I really for his sake wanted to believe that so I bought it. Then I saw the quote where Ty Lue said he came out of the game and he thought they were up. First of all. I imagine someone was coaching J.R. on what to say afterward. It was like someone going to a police station: get your story straight.
Golliver: It was like that cleaner guy from Pulp Fiction. He comes through and is like, "Ok, we have to go to the media room and make sure you tell them."
Sharp: "Here's what we're going to say." I'm with LeBron. I can't put myself in J.R.'s head at the end of that game. I do think it certainly looked like he thought they had the lead. It's not like they were guaranteed to get a bucket there so I'm not pinning the entire loss on that. I do think that once that happened, Cleveland just came completely unglued. We saw that in overtime. Beyond that, though, it's just J.R. Smith. You said after the game that it's a 1 in 10,000 thing. With J.R., though, it is not a 1 in 10,000 thing. That has happened a handful of different times where we have seen J.R. Smith make just inexplicable decisions in big moments and we've also seen him come up huge in big moments because he's clearly just totally detached from all of this.
Golliver: Look, Andrew, even by his own standard... This is a man who tried to untie an opponent's shoe, this is a man who talked to bystanders on the court during live action so that the guy could cut behind him and get the dunk. This is the lowest of the low point given the stakes. What I thought was really incredible was Steve Kerr breaking out a callback to the 1984 second round when Derek Harper for the Mavericks essentially did the same thing, dribbling out the clock in a tie game against the Lakers thinking he was up and sort of forcing overtime. And it's hilarious to watch the clip because Magic Johnson is playing defense on him as he's doing this and Magic knows the time and score and Derek Harper doesn't. So Magic's trying to defend him but he's also trying not to defend him too well so he understands what's going well. He's trying to bait him to continue dribbling in circles.
The way J.R. moved made me think that he believed they were up one. He was playing keep away. It wasn't just dribbling to the perimeter to get ready for a turnaround jumper. He was dribbling as if he was trying not to get tagged or fouled in that situation. I really don't understand the purpose of his second story but it doesn't past mustard to me.
Sharp: I would just add that per a email we received that I too noticed George Hill's body language during that sequence was not great. It occurred to me that he probably had never come anywhere close to as big of a moment as that was. Granted, he hit the first one, which was big, but I was not super confident in him to knock those down. The one thing I really am bummed about: It would have been fascinating to see who takes the last shot with Golden State down one and four seconds left.
Golliver: There's no question, and speaking from George Hill's perspective, do you think he's kind of feeling relieved that it went that way? Imagine if Kevin Durant gets the rebound and Golden State wins, then he's the goat for missing the free throw. I'll tell you one person who was really glad that J.R. Smith screwed up that play and it's Jordan Clarkson. Nobody is talking about Clarkson's night and we'd all be sitting here just hammering Jordan Clarkson for his propensity for shooting in this game is J.R. hadn't come out as the goat.
Sharp: Let me tell you something: I'm not saying that Rodney Hood is actually good, but he's not going to be worse to Jordan Clarkson was tonight. And I understand where Ty Lue is coming from. Throw him out there in that first quarter and see what you got. But he was given way too much rope as the game unfolded. At least with Rodney Hood there's a version of him that has been good and has been helpful in a winning context. That's not Jordan Clarkson and I don't understand why we had to go through the motions with that tonight. And, again, ad the Cavs made a game of it, I become pretty invested in them closing this out and getting this win and making the next week a lot more fun. And Jordan Clarkson was driving me crazy.
Golliver: Last couple things on this J.R. blunder: First of all, I always defend Draymond, almost always. And once again I was on the same page of Draymond. His view of J.R.'s play was, "I thought he was looking for LeBron. I would've been looking for LeBron, too." Thanks what, Andrew, in that situation I definitely would've been looking for LeBron, regardless of whether I thought my team was up one or tied. I don't want that ball once I get the rebound. I'm giving it to LeBron and letting him handle it.
The other thing I want to ask about this George Hill scenario: So LeBron, obviously, on that play made the decision not to shoot and to pass to George Hill. He trusted his teammates and it kind of backfired in this situation, although no one could've predicted how it would backfire, obviously. Does he still trust George Hill in Game 2 if he finds himself in the same situation? Or did he see the same life go out of George Hill like our emailer claimed. Is he going to adjust his percentages and decision making if he gets into a similar situation?
Sharp: It's very tricky because I don't want to overreact to Game 1. And like I said, I just kind of fell in love with this Cavs team tonight. My heart is full and I need to remind myself that George Hill just goes completely invisible once every three games and just sucks. And so that's a distinct possibility, and I'm sure LeBron has factored that into his decision-making going forward. But George Hill, aside from that miss, deserves a ton of credit. He was very solid this entire game and when he had five fouls late in the game it occurred to me that the Cavs have absolutely no alternative to having him out there and having him play pretty well. The same is true with LeBron. He's going to have to trust George Hill because there's no other option. It's George Hill or Jordan Clarkson and I think the choice is pretty obvious.