OAKLAND, Calif. — After two days of hazing on social media following his Game 1 blunder, the Cavaliers’ J.R. Smith received a hero’s welcome from the Golden State fans when he was introduced before Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday evening at Oracle Arena. The crowd responded with a standing ovation.
Smith had blown a chance to win the opener in regulation as he dribbled out the clock in a tie game after grabbing an offensive rebound with 4.7 seconds left. The Cavaliers lost in overtime.
When Game 2 began, Smith managed five points in the first quarter to help the Cavs keep it close. But throughout the game, when he was at the foul line or when he committed his one turnover, he was serenaded by the crowd’s chant of “MVP! MVP!”
Smith and his Cavs teammates talked the day before Game 2 about his resiliency and his ability to bounce back, but it didn’t happen in Game 2. Smith never scored after the first period, finishing with five points and 2-of-9 shooting in the Cavs’ 122-103 loss.
Asked if he thought the fans bothered Smith, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said, “I don’t think so. Not much affects J.R. He had some good looks, but throughout the course of the game, I don’t think he really got shots in a row to get into a rhythm. So that was kind of tough on him. But we’ve got confidence in J.R., and he’s just got to continue taking his shots.”
Two days after saying he knew the score was tied when he dribbled out the clock, Smith recalibrated during Saturday’s media session. Asked if he still was sure the score was tied, he diverted from his postgame script. “After thinking about it a lot the last 24 hours or however many since the game was over, I can’t say I was sure of anything at that point,” Smith said. “So no.”
Asked about the video of his conversation with LeBron James after the buzzer in regulation, Smith said, “The video where I said I thought we were ahead? I might have said that. I’m not sure, but I might have.”
Smith has had other situations in which he appeared to lose track of events on court, but messing up in an NBA Finals opener the Cavs had a chance to win on the road was a much bigger deal.
“I told somebody right after the game I’m glad it happened to me as opposed to anyone else on my team,” Smith said. “To be in that situation is tough. It’s not a situation everybody can handle, so I’m glad it happened to me.
“I’ve always been the one guy who is the butt of jokes, the one guy who does something crazy. Then I just come back and be myself and play the next day. I don’t really dwell on things too much. It’s been like that my whole life.”
That’s one way to look at it — that he’s used to cleaning up the messes he makes. In truth, his teammates view the situation much the same way.
James himself said: “I think J.R. is one of the most resilient guys I’ve ever been around . . . He probably took the loss as hard as anybody on the team. But one thing about J.R., he has an uncanny ability to bounce back.’’
It didn’t happen Sunday, and if it doesn’t happen in Cleveland, the Cavs are in big trouble.