Cavaliers’ Smith changes tune on Finals blunder

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OAKLAND, Calif. — JR Smith admitted Saturday that he was not aware of the score at the end of regulation in the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ 124-114 overtime loss in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, but he said he won’t let the mistake affect his play in Game 2.

“After thinking about it a lot after the last 24 hours and however long it’s been since the game was over, I can’t say I was sure of anything at that point,” Smith said.

That was different than Smith’s story after Game 1 on Thursday, when he said he believed the score was tied when he grabbed an offensive rebound in the lane with 4.7 seconds remaining off a George Hill missed free throw and dribbled the ball out, expecting someone on his team to call timeout.

Smith was asked if he remembered telling an irate LeBron James, “I thought we were ahead,” after the clock expired, as it appeared he said in a camera angle captured by the ABC broadcast of the game.

“I might have said that,” Smith said. “I’m not for sure, but I might have.”

Smith, an avid golfer, said he spent the Cavs’ off day on Friday watching the Memorial Tournament and was impressed by Tiger Woods‘ play. He also spoke to his children on FaceTime.

In other words, despite his role in how Game 1 unraveled for his team, Smith says he is prepared to turn the page to Sunday’s Game 2 and look for a series split at Oracle Arena.

“That’s pretty much who I’ve been my whole life. I’ve always been the one guy who is the butt of the jokes or the one guy who does something crazy and everybody has got to look at or whatever the case may be. And then I just come back and be myself and play the next day,” Smith said. “I don’t really dwell on things too much. I’ve been like that my whole life, and that’s what it looks like it’s going to continue to be. So I just got to go out there and be me. I told somebody right after the game that I’m glad it happened to me, as opposed to anybody else on my team. To be in that situation is tough, and it’s not a situation that everybody can handle. So I’m glad it happened to me.”

Indeed, James described Smith as “one of the most resilient guys I’ve ever been around;” having known him since they both were in high school, that’s a well-informed opinion.

“He probably took that loss as hard as anybody on the team,” James said. “But one thing about JR, he has an uncanny ability to bounce back. I think people have seen that throughout our postseason runs, where he hasn’t played well or played to his ability that he thinks he should have played, and then the next game he comes on and shoots the ball extremely well. It’s just very locked in.”

Smith still has his sense of humor intact, at least. He gave a classic response when asked about playing alongside James.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” Smith said. “Not for myself or for my teammates [specifically] but just playing on his team. It’s almost a gift and a curse. You play on his team, you’re playing with the best player in the world, and you get to witness some great, historic things and be a part of it. And then on the other side, if you don’t help that person win, they’re looking at you, too. So it’s a lot of pressure depending on how you look at it, but I tell him all the time: He has a opportunity to play with me as well.”

Although Game 1 was a low point of the JR Smith experience, Cavs forward Kevin Love noted that Cleveland probably wouldn’t have won Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals had his teammate not scored eight points in the third quarter to get his team back in the game.

“We all expect a lot out of each other,” Love said. “JR is one of the four guys left from the 2016 [team], as you know. And we’ve talked about it all season. He has that experience. He has been through several moments, either high or low, before.

“The best thing he can do is just go out there and be himself. We’re going to get, I would imagine, a great effort out of him tomorrow.”

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said that Smith would keep his starting role for Game 2 and noted that as much as everyone wants to harp on his blunder, had Smith not secured the rebound after the Hill miss, Golden State could have had a chance to win the game in regulation rather than needing overtime.

Smith appreciated Lue’s support.

“I mean, I’ve been playing like dog crap all year, and he stuck with me,” Smith said. “So he’s one of the people that gives me the most confidence out there when I’m on the court. So what he’s done for me and my career since I’ve been here has been tremendous. I got to take my hat off to him.”

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