The Cavaliers' J.R. Smith dribbles while being defended by the Warriors' Stephen Curry.

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Keidel: Boneheaded Play In Game 1 Was Classic J.R. Smith

Cavaliers Guard Seemingly Ran Out Clock With Score Tied

Jason Keidel
June 01, 2018 - 11:11 am
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If you kept your eyelids apart long enough to watch Game 1 of the NBA Finals, you saw an epic blunder by J.R. Smith. 

And not a single Knicks fan was surprised. 

While the world expected the Warriors to run the Cavaliers out of Oracle Arena, the gritty Cavs -- led by LeBron James's 51 points, eight rebounds and eight assists -- were in position to steal a road game and make a series out of an alleged laugher.

With the game tied and four seconds left, Smith snared an offensive rebound off a missed free throw. With two logical options -- take a timeout or pass the ball to an open LeBron -- Smith chose a third option, inexplicably dribbling the ball far away from the rim, as if he were running out the clock to seal a win that didn't exist. 

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An appalled LeBron winced and waved his hands spastically at Smith, pointing at the dwindling seconds on the clock, then trying to call a timeout that was sadly left in their pocket. Though Smith said in the postgame presser that he knew the game was tied at 107-107, video clearly shows him telling the exasperated James that he thought the Cavs were up a point. 

We've long heard the sports parlance for these things, like "situational awareness." But you didn't have to be Peyton Manning to know the deal Thursday night. Smith was somehow unaware of the score, time and timeout situation -- a most unholy hardwood trinity at a most costly moment.

Yes, the refs blew several calls that went the Warriors' way. They missed Kevin Durant stepping out of bounds. They then reversed a charging call on Durant that cost the Cavs dearly. And if George Hill hits that second free throw, then there's no ball for Smith to rebound, no play to botch, no game to blow. Instead, LeBron becomes the only player in history to score 50-plus points in an NBA Finals and lose.

Of course, the game went to overtime, but everyone not named J.R. Smith knew the game was over by then. The Dubs smoked the Cavs over the next five minutes and won by double digits, 124-114. Smith tried to lie his way out of the press conference, James was disgusted by a reporter's redundant questioning, and the Warriors loved it all, gleefully laughing at Smith with reporters after the game. 

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Yet the world is talking mostly -- if not exclusively -- about Smith. Partly because his gaffe most directly and visibly cost the Cavs. Partly because the tête-à-tête between Smith and James makes for the best postgame fodder. And partly because it's vintage J.R. Smith.

Blessed with many basketball gifts, Smith never seems to play to his potential, at least when it matters most. Smith will hit almost every shot in a January game, leave the crowd spellbound with his natural talent, then shoot enough bricks to build a mansion in the NBA Finals. Or make a wayward pass. Or spout off at a ref and get a technical foul. Or run out the clock in a game they weren't winning. 

Smith is just a different dude. Coated in ink all the way up to his neck, shirtless whenever he gets a chance, he tries so hard to stand out he's a walking meme for the millennial age. Smith doesn't seem like an especially bad guy, nor a particularly bright one, at least on the hardwood, where his scalp-scratching moments far outweigh the glowing ones. Nothing italicizes the Smith dichotomy like his relationship with James, who seems to adore Smith personally yet was gawking at Smith on Thursday night as if he were from another planet. 

We're all conflicted and imperfect. But on the court, at least, Smith comes with more baggage than Newark Airport. He teased New Yorkers with his talent before he got shipped to Cleveland, where he rode LeBron's cape to an NBA title. But the Cavs simply aren't good enough to overcome Smith's singular mistake last night. Not even James, who makes even the Warriors look like college kids by comparison, can overcome Smith's inverted basketball instincts. 

Not that the Knicks have thrived since they traded Smith, but maybe a few New Yorkers smiled or smirked Thursday, knowing they shipped a hardwood hand grenade to the Cavs. And as Smith proved, his explosions don't always kill the enemy. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel