Among all the wine-and-gold-rocking revelers thrilled that the Cleveland Cavaliers held on for a 95-93 overtime win in Game 2 of the 2015 NBA Finals to wrest home-court advantage away from the Golden State Warriors, it's unlikely anybody was happier — or more relieved — than Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith.
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He expressed as much on Instagram after the game:
"Thank God for teammates cause I played like pure s&@$!!" Smith wrote in the caption of his post.
To be fair, the offensive-minded reserve did chip in 13 points, four rebounds and a steal in 38 minutes off the bench for the short-handed Cavs, adding some punch to a Cleveland second unit that was outscored 34-9 in Thursday night's loss, but outscored the Warriors' reserves 21-17 in Sunday's victory.
Those contributions aside, though, Smith nearly cost Cleveland dearly with a trio of ill-advised fouls — two late in the fourth quarter, as the Warriors stormed back from an 11-point deficit in the final 3:14 of regulation to force overtime, and a third in the closing minute of the extra frame.
Smith actually preceded his near-tragic late troika with an earlier unwelcome foul right at the start of the fourth quarter, as he hit Klay Thompson in the act of shooting a right-wing 3-pointer that sailed through the net:
Thompson's triple tied the game at 62, and Smith's foul gave him a chance to put the Warriors back in front. Klay missed his chance at a four-point play, though, and point guard Matthew Dellavedova — starting in place of the injured Kyrie Irving — hit consecutive jumpers to put the Cavs back up by four.
So, yes foul, but no harm. Things got a little less harmonious and a little more harmful as the quarter pressed on, though.
Cleveland built its lead, choking out the Warriors' vaunted offense — Golden State missed nine of its first 13 shots in the fourth quarter — and pushing their advantage to 11 on a Dellavedova 3-pointer with five minutes remaining. The Cavs led 83-72 after a LeBron James 3-point bomb with 3:14 left on the clock; at that point, based on the win probability model of InPredictable's Mike Beuoy, the Warriors had just a 1.9 percent chance of pulling off the comeback.
J.R. Smith cares nothing for your statistical models.
The Warriors quickly chopped the lead down to six behind 3-pointers from Game 1 hero Andre Iguodala and league MVP Stephen Curry, and disrupted Cleveland's flow by intentionally fouling power forward Tristan Thompson — a 63.3 percent career free-throw shooter hardly a DeAndre Jordan- or Dwight Howard-style bricklayer demanding Hack-a-Whoever treatment — to try to generate as many offensive possessions as possible down the stretch.
After Thompson missed the back-end of his second set of intentional free throws, Curry grabbed the rebound and began dribbling up court. Smith, for no apparent reason, reached in and fouled him a solid 70 feet away from the Golden State basket:
Because Golden State was already in the bonus, the foul A) stopped the clock and B) needlessly sent Curry — who struggled with his shot in Game 2, but who led the NBA in free-throw accuracy this season, making 91.4 percent of his freebies — to the line with a chance to make it a two-possession game. The replays lay bare both the head-scratching nature of the foul and the brilliance of Cavaliers head coach David Blatt's reaction:
When you're coaching J.R. Smith... pic.twitter.com/SNSGDdZsxt
— CBS Sports NBA (@CBSSportsNBA) June 8, 2015
Curry made both free throws to get Golden State within five, at 85-80, with 2:35 left on the clock. Just over a minute later, Smith once again found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A sloppy bit of basketball that featured two steals in three seconds — one by Dellavedova, one by Draymond Green — culminated in the Warriors racing downcourt and Curry hoisting up a transition 3. Smith didn't pick up any Warriors as he tracked back on the break, winding up standing alone in the paint and watching as Iguodala scanned the floor after grabbing the offensive rebound of Curry's miss.
The first problem was not picking up Harrison Barnes all alone under the rim. The second was fouling him rather than just letting him dunk, sending him to the line with a chance for a three-point play that would cut Cleveland's lead to just two points, at 87-85, with 1:23 remaining.
The Warriors would finish off the comeback on a driving Curry finger roll with eight seconds left, knotting the game at 87. For the second straight game, a missed final-seconds shot by LeBron (a left-wing jumper in Game 1, a driving layup amid the trees in Game 2) and a missed putback of an offensive rebound (a right-baseline tip try by Iman Shumpert in Game 1, a point-blank tap by Thompson in Game 2) sent the contest to overtime.
"I was pissed," Smith said after the game. "I looked at it like [going to overtime] was my fault. A lot of dumb fouls and turnovers, We put ourselves in a position to lose that game. Unfortunately, we did what we had to do to not lose. I lost focus, and fortunately I had a team that had my back."
Smith's third key foul came with 29 seconds left in the extra session, and the Cavaliers leading by one:
Even with Curry having missed an NBA Finals-record 13 3-pointers to that point, you can understand J.R. feeling like he needed to do whatever he could to keep Steph from getting off a clean look from beyond the arc in the last half-minute of a Finals game. And yet, to jump out of your shoes at the pump fake at that stage, giving a struggling Curry yet another chance to find points at the stripe ... that's rough stuff, man.
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) June 8, 2015
The pump-fake-provoked personal was Smith's sixth foul of the game, disqualifying him and sending him to the sideline.
Asked after the game what he was thinking as he headed to the bench to watch the remainder of the contest, Smith laid out his desperation.
"Please win this game," he said. "I don't want the phone calls, the emails, Instagrams, tweets, memes. I don't want none of that right now."
Curry made his pair to put the Warriors up 93-92, but Cleveland outscored Golden State 3-0 over the final 29 seconds to earn an impressive road split. They beat the Warriors, survived some at-times questionable officiating, and lived through a very different and decidedly worse version of The J.R. Smith Game:
JR Smith committed 5 of his 6 fouls in the 2nd half. The five 2nd half fouls produced 12 Warrior points, 10 in the 4th Q and OT.
— Robert H (@bandwagonknick) June 8, 2015
And yet, despite Smith's miscues — and thanks in part to one big blunder by Warriors big man Marreese Speights — the Cavs head home level at one game apiece, with at least two tilts still to come at Quicken Loans Arena. Much more will be asked of Smith in Game 3, as he looks to bounce back after a pair of rough outings by the Bay:
CRAZY JR BOUNCE BACK-GAME IS IN PLAY
— Ben Cox (@WFNYBen) June 8, 2015
But for now, at least, the Cavaliers have a whole new lease on life ... albeit one achieved by living through a heart-attack finish.
"Well, the people in Israel are up at 6 o'clock in the morning," coach Blatt joked after the game. "I've got to give them something to do. I can't just make it easy. Seven million people watching the game, it's got to be exciting."
And as any serious NBA fan will tell you, nobody does exciting quite like your man J.R.
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