Tonight was a J.R. Smith Game. That is a terrifying sentence to read for anybody who has ever been a fan of a team that J.R. Smith played for. A J.R. Smith Game is one in which he does something inexplicably stupid, like elbowing somebody in the head. A J.R. Smith Game is one in which he plays terribly because he was out clubbing until 7 a.m.
But a J.R. Smith Game is also one in which he is the best damn shooter on the floor, and that’s the J.R. Smith Game the Cavaliers got tonight. The Cavaliers bench scored 28 points in tonight’s 97-89 victory over the Hawks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and all 28 came from Smith. He shot a scorching 8-12 from three-point land, most of them insane step-backs or over the outstretched arm of a well-positioned defender. But that’s how good J.R. Smith is when he’s on.
The Cavaliers needed it, too, as Kyrie Irving was still feeling the ill-effects of a knee injury suffered against the Bulls. He struggled to a 4-10 shooting night in 27 minutes, and Rachel Nichols reported during the game that he re-injured his knee. If Irving can’t play at his best, the Cavaliers’s offense is pretty limited. They’re already starting Tristan Thompson in place of Kevin Love, and besides Smith, there is nobody on the bench that can be counted upon for points every night. Down the stretch, as the Hawks clawed back from a 16 point deficit to get within four, the Cavs offense looked ugly and iso-heavy.
Smith isn’t going to score 28 points every night—though maybe he will, as all things are possible with J.R.!—but the Cavaliers need him. It is a scary proposition, relying on J.R. Smith to win a championship, but they have no other choice. One way or another, J.R. Smith’s influence on this series will continue to be felt.