CLEVELAND — With 1.7 seconds remaining in the first quarter of Game 5 between the Cavaliers and Pacers, Cleveland’s JR Smith fouled Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo. The foul was senseless and maddening in that Smith was beaten off a screen and was roughly six feet away from his man, but still stuck out his arm and committed the infraction. Rather than pressing his luck and letting the clock expire, Smith sent Oladipo to the line for two free throws.
It was the second-most JR Smith thing he would do in the quarter’s final two seconds.
The most JR Smith thing JR Smith did was when he received the ensuing in-bound pass, dribbled once crosscourt, and casually unfurled a 60-foot shot at the buzzer that could not have possibly touched less of the rim while splashing through the net. Smith mean-mugged his way back to the Cavaliers’ bench and doled out high-fives as if the foul was a well-executed ploy in giving Cleveland an extra point before the end of the quarter. In a league full of characters and personalities, it was Smith who somehow traversed between being a mess and a masterpiece in less time than it takes to say his full name.
What LeBron James did in the seven-game series was nothing short of heroic, carrying an underperforming concoction of role players to the next round. And while Kyle Korver certainly had his impact on the offensive end, spacing the floor with his three-point prowess and delivering the series-winning pass to James in Game 7, it was Smith who — just weeks removed from being suspended for throwing a bowl of soup at Damon Jones — was the team’s second most consistent weapon throughout.
Cleveland won Game 5 by four points, so Smith’s fouled-turned-buzzer-beating three ball wasn’t exactly a game-maker as much as it was a complete encapsulation of what the veteran swingman has become for the Cavaliers. That night, he had an inefficient 12 points on 12 shots (sinking only three-pointers) to go with six rebounds, allowing James to need only 32 points in the win. It was what Smith did on the defensive end, however, that would be his value add, being the main driver on a defensive effort that held Oladipo to 5-of-20 shooting.
In Game 1 of the series, Cavs head coach Ty Lue opted to bring Smith off the bench, starting Rodney Hood next to George Hill in the team’s backcourt. Oladipo scored 32 points on 19 shots, and Indiana stormed out to a series lead, boat racing the Cavs in the first and fourth quarters. Lue quickly changed lineups for Game 2, inserting Smith into the starting five. While Smith had just five points on the night, it was two points that came from a full-court press of Oladipo late in the fourth quarter that would earn the praise of his coach and teammates.
“JR’s defensive aggression is really good for us,” Lue said following the win. “Showing the fight, showing the toughness that we need, bringing the physicality. He’s not scared to hit people. You have to hit people in this league. It’s a contact sport, and guys have to understand and realize that.”