INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – After the Cleveland Cavaliers received a 40-point triple-double from LeBron James in Game 2 against the Boston Celtics and still lost, JR Smith says the rest of the Cavs are giving James no choice but to shoulder too much of the load.
“We have to ramp it up,” said Smith, who is averaging 2.0 points on 12.5 percent shooting in the series so far. “We’re playing too slow. We’re making Bron play hero ball, which is tough to do, especially in the Eastern Conference finals. We got to help him. With that said, we have to give him an opportunity to make him feel confident to give us the ball so we can make the right plays. We got to help him and he’s got to help us.”
James is averaging 28.7 points on 46.7 percent shooting, 10.5 assists and 8.5 rebounds in the conference finals – slightly down from the first two rounds of the playoffs, but generally in line with his postseason averages.
The difference has been the rest of the Cavs roster. After six players averaged double-digit scoring in Cleveland’s 4-0 sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the conference semifinals, including Smith who averaged 12.5 points while shooting 63 percent from the field, just two players are in double digits against Boston: James and Kevin Love (19.5 points and 11.5 rebounds).
James suffered a strained neck in Game 2, and was reportedly “OK” to fully participate in practice on Thursday, according to Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. There was no word on how James, who was not made available to reporters, felt after going through the team film session that pointed out all of the mistakes that Cleveland has made in the series so far, however.
“We took some bad shots I thought,” Lue said of the Cavs’ second-half performance in Game 2. “I thought we like rushed shots and we got down six or seven (points) and started playing like we were down 25. So, I mean, a 6-7 point game in the playoffs is nothing. We just got to take better shots coming down the stretch.”
Had Cleveland watched every possession from the first two games, it would also see that the Celtics had more deflections (28-18), retrieved more 50-50 balls (24-17), contested more shots (119-116) and executed more box outs (93-64), according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.
Lue used the film session to key in on communication breakdowns by the Cavs’ defense
“You could see that we weren’t communicating and they had a lot of open shots,” said Tristan Thompson. “I mean, we all got strengths and weaknesses. Some guys aren’t huge communicators. But at the end of the day, it’s the playoffs. This is for all the marbles. We’re down 0-2. If you don’t like to talk, you’re going to talk now. And if you don’t want to talk, you can sit you’re a– on the bench. That’s what it is. It’s point blank, simple. So, if we’re not all communicating — all five of us — we got no chance.”
Working in the Cavs favor is the fact that Boston is just 1-4 on the road in the playoffs thus far. However, should the Celtics improve that mark to 2-4 on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), things would become pretty bleak for Cleveland. In NBA history, teams that fall down 0-3 in a seven-game series are 0-131.
While it’s true that no team had ever come back from 3-1 in the NBA Finals before the Cavs did it in 2016 – making that 0-for-131 just a hair less daunting in terms of an impossible hole to dig out of, Smith says it would be silly to compare those circumstances to this year for Cleveland.
“There’s only four of us left,” Smith said, referring to him, James, Love and Thompson as the only holdovers from the championship team. “We can’t expect the other guys to inherit that because they weren’t there when we went through it. It’s a totally different group, same core I would say, but at the same time it’s a different crew. We just got to approach it like it’s new. Unfortunately, it’s something you can’t really rely on … We’re only four out of 15.”
The current Cavs group has proved itself in a must-win situation, however, besting the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of the first round. Point guard George Hill said he feels the “same right now” as he did going into that game against Indiana.
“We’ve got our backs against the wall,” Hill said. “But it’s no time for panic. I think Boston did what they were supposed to do, take care of their home court advantage. We have a great opportunity to do the same thing here. We’ve got to rally together, communicate a little bit better, play better on both ends of the floor and try to figure it out.”