Tuesday night against OKC, J.R. Smith looked like the dangerous wing shooter and player the Cavaliers had back when they won an NBA title in 2016. Smith was 6-of-9 from three for 18 points and made some key plays in Cleveland’s fourth straight win, second with the new-look roster.
However, Smith is legendarily streaky with his shot and during some of the dark days with the Cavaliers — you know, like a couple of weeks ago — Smith’s shot was not falling, and he told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin he considered asking Tyronn Lue to sit him.
“There were times when I wanted to go to [Lue] and be like, ‘Listen, man, I’m not playing well. Why not take me out?'” said Smith, who in 14 games this season has scored three points or fewer. “Fortunately, I didn’t and just stuck with it. I’ve known T-Lue since my rookie year. Our relationship is based on communication — how he communicates with me, how I communicate with him. He’s been really consistent at that.”
Lue is loyal and sticks with the players he trusts and the schemes he likes. To a fault sometimes, but loyalty can have its rewards.
Smith has figured out how to play next to LeBron, which is why he fits better on the first unit. Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson can play with LeBron, but they also have their own chemistry which can generate some good looks without LeBron facilitating. Put Rodney Hood and Kyle Korver next to Clarkson and Nance and you have a second unit that at the start of the fourth pulled away from Oklahoma City in a way the starters could not.
Smith is going to be a key figure in however deep the Cavaliers go in the playoffs this season.