In a fun twist from last night’s crushing loss for Cleveland, J.R. Smith is insisting he actually did know the game was tied when he rebounded George Hill’s missed free throw with 4.7 seconds left, dribbled back out, didn’t pass the ball to LeBron, didn’t call timeout, and let the clock essentially expire before throwing a desperation pass to Hill who didn’t have time or space for a shot.
Because yeah, sure, that makes sense.
Here’s the play in question, if you’ve somehow missed it:
Everyone’s immediate interpretation was “Oh, J.R. didn’t know the score”, which was based both on his actions and Mike Breen’s lipreading here from the moment that launched a million memes:
“I thought we were ahead.” – JR Smith pic.twitter.com/05L60BtFZe
— Casey Baker (@CaseyBake16) June 1, 2018
Smith, though, said after the game that he knew the score was tied. Via ESPN:
“No, I knew we were tied,” Smith said. “It’s just, I thought we were going to take a timeout because I got the rebound. I’m pretty sure everybody didn’t think I was going to shoot it over KD right there. … I mean, I saw KD standing right next to me. He already had, what, four blocks? So I wasn’t trying to be the fifth.”
“It was a tie ballgame and we had a timeout,” Smith said. “I tried to get enough space because, obviously, KD was standing right there. I tried to get enough space to bring it out to maybe get a shot off. And then I looked over at Bron, and he looked like he was trying to call a timeout. So I stopped. And then the game was over.”
Smith apparently has decided that “being confused about how basketball works” is a better look than “being confused about the score”; there’s no other explanation for this. Because here’s the thing: J.R. is allowed to call timeout! If you think that’s what the play is, then just call it yourself! But under no circumstance is what he did the correct thing to do in a tie game.
Smith, though, is almost certainly not being truthful here. For example, this is basically exactly what he did:
“If I thought we were ahead, then I would have just held onto the ball and let them foul me,” Smith said. “So, clearly that wasn’t the case.”
It really doesn’t matter, in the end. Smith messed up, which let George Hill and his clanked free throw off the hook to an incredible degree, and the Cavs lost in overtime, negating LeBron’s masterful performance.
I don’t think anything is a better example of LeBron James having to carry a bunch of terrible teammates than LeBron having to literally point J.R. Smith to the basket with the ball and three seconds left in a tie game
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) June 1, 2018
It was a really weird way for the final seconds of a Finals fourth quarter to go down, and it’s likely going to be the defining sequence for this series. That might be unfair to Smith, who is clearly trying to spin the narrative in a direction he considers more favorable long-term. And hey, we can’t know for sure.
But the play makes even less sense if that’s true, and it’s pretty hard to make something more inexplicable.