JR Smith, LeBron and Game One

The events at the end of regulation during Game 1 of the NBA finals have been fuel for conversation over the past few days. Everyone was quick to blame JR Smith for not knowing the game was tied (mind you they would not have had the ball at all if he didn’t grab that offensive rebound). JR Smith received so much blame for not knowing the situation. Even to the extent that the Warriors fans were calling him their MVP. The point of this post is not to defend JR Smith. There is no excuse for not knowing the situation. George Hill was blamed for missing the free throw that would have given the Cavs the lead. Then LeBron was blamed for his actions (or inactions) on the bench before overtime. Let’s look at the final 36 seconds and decide who is to blame?

Analytically, let’s look at the last 36 seconds using win probability. Meaning the percent chance based on past data that a team has of winning taking into account the time, score and the team with possession. The score was tied at 104 with 36 seconds left in the 4th quarter the Cavs had the ball and 60.5% win probability. LeBron gave Cleveland a 2 point lead with 32 seconds left increasing their win probability to 89.8%. Stephen Curry quickly followed with an and-1 that gave the Cavs only a 38.8% chance to win. Prior to George Hill being fouled, the Cavs only had a 29% chance to win. George Hill made the first free throw and missed the second. If the Warriors get the rebound then the Cavs would have a 40.7% chance to win, but when JR Smith gets the offensive rebound the Cavs win probability shoots up to 59.3%. Even if the Cavs get a shot off there is only a 59.3% chance they win the game. By getting the offensive rebound, he also prevented any chance of the Warriors winning in regulation. JR Smith did not lose the game in the last 6 seconds. The worst part of his 4th quarter was giving up the and-1 to Curry with 23.5 seconds left, decreasing the Cavs win probability by 51%. It was not where the Cavs failed to get a shot off, barely changing their win probability from 59.3% to 50% before overtime. JR Smith may have hurt the Cavs down the stretch, but he hurt them a lot more with his defense than he did with his failure to know the situation.

That is not my problem with the situation. The Cavs still had a 50% chance to win heading into overtime. The Cavs reaction to that final play made it look like they had already lost. Nobody should be pointing fingers or hanging their heads in a TIE game! Yes, JR Smith should have known the situation. Yes, George Hill should have made the free throw. Yes, the coaching staff should have called a timeout. You look back at those mistakes later and learn from them. The point is the Cavs were not able pick each other up and move on. I know the end of regulation was utter chaos and multiple mistakes were made, but the Cavs could not move past that psychologically. That starts with the leader of the team-LeBron James. He said in an interview later that “[he] was sitting on the bench and kinda just contemplating the last couple of seconds of what just happened, from J.R. dribbling the ball out to [George Hill] missing the free throw, actually seeing Draymond [Green] step in early on the lane violation, asking myself ‘did I have a lane to actually drive it?”. He also said he tried to call a timeout, which is something we do not know for sure. All we know is that the refs did not give the Cavs one. In my opinion this is NOT what should be on your mind. That is the kind of thing you think about in the locker room after the game. You focus on what’s going on right now. You pick up any teammates that might still be dwelling on that tough last play. You pick them up and tell them not to worry about it, and let’s go finish this thing in OT. If you look at the Cavs bench there is no communication at all. Whoever the team leader is, LeBron or the coaching staff, they weren’t a leader in that situation. Watch below as you can see the Cavs bench reaction to what just happened. The Cavs have just about the quietest huddle of all-time before an important overtime. They still had their opportunity to steal Game 1 on the road, but it looks like they already lost.

The reason for writing this is not to bash on LeBron or the Cavs. LeBron is the most dominant player in the game and I think he is an incredible player to watch, but I cannot believe the lack of leadership in the Cavs huddle at such an important time of game. It is no surprise they came out flat and got destroyed in overtime (124-114). A good teammate always tries to make sure their teammates do not hang their heads after a tough loss, but during a game is even worse. Not a blowout game either, a game that is tied and still has 5 minutes to decide the fate of an NBA Finals game. This is a problem with the culture of the Cavaliers.

We will see if the Cavaliers can bounce back from down 3-0 to help fuel one of the greatest comebacks of all-time. The way I see it, the Cavs currently have a flawed culture where LeBron is good enough to win them some games on his own.

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