If the Cavaliers’ are looking for a scapegoat after burying themselves against the Celtics, they have an easy option in J.R. Smith.
Smith had a miserable night in the 107-94 loss to the Celtics, failing to provide the secondary scoring the Cavaliers needed beyond LeBron James and Kevin Love, missing all seven shots with zero points as the Cavaliers’ drop 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals.
Beyond that, Smith’s recklessness might have ignited a larger fire under the Celtics.
With the Cavaliers hanging in down eight points with four minutes left, Smith shoved a defenseless Al Horford in the back as the Celtics big tried completing an alley-oop. The play sent Horford tumbling to the floor before teammate Marcus Smart confronted Smith, who then shoved Smart a few times before the two had to be separated.
The push elicited a “F–k you, JR” chant while officials reviewed the play. It also squashed any comeback chance for the Cavaliers. Smith was accessed a Flagrant 1 foul, not an ejection, and received a technical foul along with Smart for the post-play scuffle.
Horford’s sister, Anna Horford, echoed TD Garden in a tweet before dialing her emotions back. Smart called Smith “dirty” and said he’s known as that kind of player.
“It’s like a bully,” Smart said. “If you let a bully keep picking on you, he’s going to keep picking on you until you finally stand up. And that’s what I tried to do. One of my guys was down, and I took offense to it.”
This isn’t Smith’s first time for off-ball antics during the playoffs in Boston. He’s been ejected twice in games at TD Garden.
The Celtics series marks the second time Smith has pulled off a disappearing act in the playoffs. He was a ghost against the Pacers in the opening round, shooting 31 percent from the three-point line while averaging 8.6 points across seven games.
In the conference semifinals, the 32-year-old revived himself and looked like a secondary star by contributing at least 15 points in three of the Cavaliers’ wins in their four-game sweep against the top-seeded Raptors, including shooting a torrid 10-of-13 from three.
For a team that lacks depth, the Cavaliers need more from Smith. He’s scored just four points in 56 combined minutes on 2-15 shooting, 0-7 from three while continuing to provide drama away from the basket.
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