INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — After the Cleveland Cavaliers received a 40-point triple-double from LeBron James in Game 2 against the Boston Celtics and still lost, JR Smith says the rest of the Cavs are giving James no choice but to shoulder too much of the load.
“We have to ramp it up,” said Smith, who is averaging 2.0 points on 12.5 percent shooting in the series. “We’re playing too slow. We’re making Bron play hero ball, which is tough to do, especially in the Eastern Conference finals. We got to help him.
“With that said, we have to give him an opportunity to make him feel confident to give us the ball so we can make the right plays. We got to help him, and he’s got to help us.”
James is averaging 28.5 points (on 46.7 percent shooting), 10.5 assists and 8.5 rebounds in the conference finals — slightly down from the first two rounds of the playoffs but generally in line with his career postseason averages.
The difference has been the rest of the Cavs roster. After six players averaged double-digit scoring in Cleveland’s sweep of the Toronto Raptors, just two players are in double digits against Boston: James and Kevin Love (19.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG).
James suffered a strained neck in Game 2 and was reportedly “OK” to fully participate in practice Thursday, according to Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. There was no word on how James, who was not made available to reporters, felt after going through the team film session that pointed out all the mistakes that Cleveland has made in the series.
“We took some bad shots, I thought,” Lue said of the Cavs’ second-half performance in Game 2. “I thought we rushed shots and we got down six or seven [points] and started playing like we were down 25. So, I mean, a 6-7 point game in the playoffs is nothing. We just got to take better shots coming down the stretch.”
Had Cleveland watched every possession from the first two games, it would also see that the Celtics had more deflections (28-18), retrieved more 50-50 balls (24-17), contested more shots (119-116) and executed more boxouts (93-64), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Lue used the film session to key in on communication breakdowns by the Cavs’ defense.
“You could see that we weren’t communicating and they had a lot of open shots,” Tristan Thompson said. “I mean, we all got strengths and weaknesses. Some guys aren’t huge communicators. But at the end of the day, it’s the playoffs. This is for all the marbles. We’re down 0-2. If you don’t like to talk, you’re going to talk now. And if you don’t want to talk, you can sit your ass on the bench. That’s what it is. It’s point-blank, simple. So if we’re not all communicating — all five of us — we got no chance.”
Working in the Cavs’ favor is the fact that Boston is 1-4 on the road in the playoffs. However, should the Celtics improve that mark to 2-4 on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), things would become pretty bleak for Cleveland. In NBA history, teams that fall down 3-0 in a seven-game series are 0-131.
While it’s true that no team had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals before the Cavs did it in 2016, Smith said it would be silly to compare those circumstances to this year for Cleveland.
“There’s only four of us left,” Smith said, referring to him, James, Love and Thompson as the only holdovers from the championship team. “We can’t expect the other guys to inherit that because they weren’t there when we went through it. It’s a totally different group — same core I would say, but at the same time it’s a different crew. We just got to approach it like it’s new. Unfortunately, it’s something you can’t really rely on. … We’re only four out of 15.”
The current Cavs group has proved itself in a must-win situation, however, defeating the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of the first round. Point guard George Hill said he feels the “same right now” as he did going into that game against Indiana.
“We’ve got our backs against the wall,” Hill said. “But it’s no time for panic. I think Boston did what they were supposed to do, take care of their home-court advantage. We have a great opportunity to do the same thing here. We’ve got to rally together, communicate a little bit better, play better on both ends of the floor and try to figure it out.”