While it went without saying that LeBron has been magnificent in this year’s postseason and that Kevin Love has found his feet again, the ability of several role players, such as Tristan Thompson, Jeff Green and Kyle Korver have been the determining factor in the Cavs scraping by Indians in the 1st Round and then sweeping Toronto in the 2nd Round. The x-factor, however, is none of those above.
His name is JR Smith.
JR’s contributions on both ends of the floor have been grossly underappreciated. For example, in Game 3 against the Pacers, J.R. held Victor Oladpio to 17 points, six below his average for the season. These missed six points would come in huge, as the Cavs scraped by the Pacers 104-100 to tie the series at 2-2 heading back to Cleveland. While we will remember Lebron’s game-winner in Game 5, he put in another stalwart defensive performance, holding Oladipo to only 12 points in a 98-95 win. His 0 points can be explained by the fact that he only took two shots in his 33 minutes.
Even after these great performances, he still received little recognition heading into the Raptors series. JR played a big role here again, especially in Game 1, where he poured in 20 points and held Demar DeRozan to only 13 points. While many people remember the Raptors poor offense in the 4th quarter and rightfully so, it is important to not overlook the contributions JR provided in helping the Cavs take back home-court advantage. JR would continue to hold DeRozan to eight and 13 points in Games 3 and 4 respectively to complete the sweep.
While the Celtics are no-doubt depleted, they still have weapons such as Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford. JR’s good shooting and defense will be needed to build up momentum into what looks very likely to be a 4th-straight finals appearance for the Cavaliers.