J.R. Smith’s misfortune turned out to be Iman Shumpert’s good fortune, and it’s a script the guards have followed repeatedly — in reverse as well — since coming to the Cavaliers in January 2015.
Smith suffered a strained left hamstring late in the first half of the Cavs’ 117-111 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Monday in Game 2 at Quicken Loans Arena, and Shumpert, who had not played in the postseason to that point, got his chance.
Shumpert, who struggled mightily at both ends of the floor for the last two months of the regular season, responded with five points in 20 minutes and played inspired defense against Pacers star Paul George, holding the small forward to 4-for-11 shooting after intermission.
In the decisive third quarter, George was 1-for-4 from the field and had just four points.
“What I saw was a true professional,” Cavs small forward LeBron James said. “You have to be ready.”
The Cavs did not practice Tuesday and provided no update on Smith’s status for Game 3 of the best-of-seven series Thursday in Indiana, but said they would have one at practice today.
Smith didn’t seem to think the injury was too serious following Game 1 — “I wanted to play. They didn’t want me to play,” he said — but the Cavs know they have a backup plan in Shumpert for Game 3. Even if Smith is cleared to play, the 6-foot-4 guard will likely get some minutes.
“He had that mindset, came in and executed,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “It’s hard to come off the bench right after halftime. We just need Shump to stay focused and understand the task at hand. I think he did a good job of that (in Game 2). And, hopefully, J.R. is all right as well.”
Should Smith, who had just nine points on 3-for-7 shooting over the first two games, be unable to go, it won’t be the first time the former New York Knicks teammates have flipped roles in Cleveland due to injury.
Shumpert was the Cavs’ starter down the stretch of the 2014-15 season and was rewarded with a four-year, $40 million contract in the offseason, the idea being he would continue in that role.
Shumpert, however, showed up to the team’s 2015-16 training camp with a broken wrist. Smith moved into the starting lineup, stayed there all season and ultimately helped the Cavs to their first NBA title.
Firmly cemented as the team’s starting shooting guard, Smith missed all of training camp before signing a four-year, $52 million deal, then promptly fractured his right thumb in mid-December and missed 12 weeks.
That led to Shumpert starting 31 games in the regular season, but Smith, who ended up starting 35, moved back into the lineup in mid-March and, though his play was up and down, stayed there through Monday, when his hamstring injury gave Shumpert an opportunity.
“I think he played great,” Smith said of Shumpert. “He gave us great minutes. He did a hell of a job on the defensive end, came in and made a big shot for us (a 3-pointer that capped a 7-0 run to start the second half and put the Cavs up 70-58). He did what he was supposed to do.”
Shumpert, who began the regular season playing well but shot just .376 from the field (76-for-202) from Jan. 30 on, was most effective at the defensive end, where his play also suffered down the stretch of the regular season.
“That’s all our purpose, to get out there and add to what the team needs to win,” he said. “That’s everybody’s job, so I just did my job.”
To Shumpert’s credit, he didn’t pout and wildly cheered for his teammates prior to starting the second half of Game 2, so they were happy to see him take advantage of his opportunity.
“His number wasn’t called in Game 1. It wasn’t called for the first half of this game because of the circumstances,” James said. “His number was called right away (in the third quarter) and he had to be ready.
“He was keeping himself ready behind the scenes. We needed that energy from him.”
- A .740 lifetime shooter who shot a career-low .674 at the foul line this season, James is at .600 in the playoffs (9-for15) since working with teammate Kyle Korver and revamping his form. Korver, meanwhile, is just 2-for-5 from the field over the first two games, including 0-for-3 on 3-pointers.
- Through two games, the Cavs have committed 30 turnovers that have led to 43 Indiana points. The Pacers have 27 turnovers that have led to 27 Cleveland points.
- Though up 2-0, the Cavs have been outscored 57-38 in the fourth quarter over the first two games.
- James (1,774) surpassed Robert Parish (1,765) for eighth all-time in playoff rebounds in Game 2. His four steals gave him 360 for his postseason career, passing Magic Johnson (358) for third in playoff history.
- Kyrie Irving had 37 points in Game 2, including a personal postseason-record 25 in the second half. Irving (837) also moved past Mark Price (818) for the second-most points in franchise playoff history.
- Cavs center Edy Tavares, who played for Raptors 905, was named NBA Development League Defensive Player of the Year. The 7-foot-3 Tavares tied for the league lead by averaging 2.7 blocks, including a season-high 12 as part of a triple-double. Tavares played one half in Cleveland’s final regular-season game and had six points, 10 boards and six blocks. Former Cavs guard DeAndre Liggins won the award last season.
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