Which 'Other' Will Step up for the Cavs?
*Photo via EPA
As you all know by now, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, the third member of the "Big Three" (Lebron James, Kyrie Irving & Love) is out for the playoffs after suffering a dislocated shoulder during a tussle with Boston Celtics center, Kelly Olynyk in Game 4 of their first round series between the C's. Unfortunately for the Cav's, Love's injury required surgery which was successfully performed last week. Without a doubt, the injury decreases the Cavs chances in winning a title this season, although they still have a shot, but in their first game of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Chicago Bulls, Love's absence has already impacted the team on the court.
In their Game 1 loss to the Bulls, 99-92, the Cavs shot 26.9 percent from behind the arc (7-26) and three players scored in double-figures which includes: Iman Shumpert’s-22 points, Kyrie Irving’s-30 and Lebron James adding 19. “For me, that’s an off game just from the standpoint [that] I’m a very efficient player as far as my shooting and to be 9-22, that’s unacceptable,” James expressed during his post-game press-conference according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com. “You can’t go down 0-2 on your home floor on the road,” James also said.
With those words spoken by the king, you can almost expect a bounce-back performance, and like he’s done so many times throughout his continuing illustrious career, James delivered. In Game 2 yesterday night, James scored 33 points on 13-29 shooting, accompanied by Irving’s 21 and Shumpert’s 15, but the surprise contribution came from an unlikely candidate in the sharpshooting James Jones, who shot 5-9 from three, finishing with 17 points. That fourth scorer proved to be the difference.
It was what they missed from Game 1 to possibly be up 2-0, and it was what they enjoyed during their first round series with the Celtics. In their four-game sweep of the Celtics, the Cavs registered four double-digit scorers. When Love left Game 4 in the 1st quarter, Shumpert picked up the slack and scored 15 points to be that fourth scorer.
Going forward, the Cavs need that fourth scorer. And as much as Jones and his heroics in Game 2 aided the Cavs attack in supplying a three-point threat, a necessity in the playoffs, they cannot count on Jones to replicate this performance game-in and game-out. Jones is a relatively stationary shooter who hasn’t shown the ability to create his own shot and that is the reason why.
He is a product of ball-movement, drives and kick-outs to the perimeter and for that fact alone, Jones will only be effective if Irving, James, Shumpert and the remaining perimeter players are attacking the basket successfully.
In addition to Irving, James and especially Shumpert-who will be counted on to not only defend but to be that third-option-the fourth is crucial. Shumpert will never be recognized as a scorer, but is definitely capable of giving you 10+ points per game. And this is where J.R. Smith comes in.
The wildcard has finished his two-game suspension as of yesterday night, received in Game 4 for striking Celtics guard Jae Crowder in the Cavs first round series, while boxing-out. But the Cavs should have known what they were acquiring when they pulled off the trade in January, a three-team deal involving the New York Knicks and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Smith and Shumpert give the Cavs depth on the perimeter and in Shumpert, an edge defensively after losing center Anderson Varejao for the year to a torn-Achilles.
And that’s why it has to be Smith. He has to be the fourth option. He is the only member of the Cavs supporting cast who has the ability to create for himself and others.
But it’s a shame that it’s come down to the high-risk, high-reward guard who is no stranger to letting down his team and the organization. Remember his time with the Knicks? In the 2013 NBA Playoffs, Smith elbowed then Jason Terry of the Celtics in the chin and was suspended for Game 4 of that series. The Knicks eventually won the series 4-2 but suffered the consequences in the second round against the Indiana Pacers. Smith was available for the series, but he was never the same after his suspension and it cost the Knicks a trip to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since the 1999-00 season.
Smith was an integral member of that Knicks team, the 2012-13 NBA Sixth Man of the Year that year, and presently, Smith is in the same position. In Love’s absence, everyone’s role moves up a slot in significance and so will Smith. The Cavs need Smith to be their fourth option.
And what’s intriguing about Smith is, on any given night, he can be your first-second-third or fourth option. He has that ability. He can get his own shot whenever he wants and does not need any plays called for his benefit.
Smith has a career average of 12.8 points per game in the playoffs, achieving his highest points per game average in his fourth year, employed by the Denver Nuggets at the time, with 18.3. This can be Smith’s chance to write the wrongs that have landed him on the fourth NBA team of his career. It’s not that he can’t play, it’s the person he is off the court.
Smith has gotten in trouble in the past, known for his nightlife and poor choices from time-to-time and the problem is, it’s not only hurt his career but his team as well. Smith can change that perception for the better and it starts Game 3 in Chicago, this Friday night.
Smith can shoot you in-and-out of a game, but when he is on, he is dangerous and can make the Cavs forget about their injuries. Like I said, he is a gamble, a high-risk, high-reward player, but due to the situation and the veteran presence that surrounds him, Smith has no excuse.
This is Smith’s best chance to win a championship, and if he can’t win beside James, it will say more about Smith then it will about James, a two-time champion and a two-time finals MVP. Trust me. But For now, the Cavs have to trust J.R.