JR Smith on dribbling out clock: 'I thought we were going to take a timeout'

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Friday, June 1, 2018

OAKLAND, Calif. -- JR Smith said he thought the Cleveland Cavaliers were going to call timeout after he corralled an offensive rebound with less than five seconds remaining in regulation in their eventual 124-114 overtime loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.

That's why, Smith said, he did not take a potentially game-winning shot with the score tied.

It wasn't a case of him believing the Cavs were ahead and trying to run out the clock for the win, Smith added.

"It was a tie ballgame and we had a timeout," Smith said. "I tried to get enough space because, obviously, KD [Kevin Durant] 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 [LeBron James], and he looked like he was trying to call a timeout. So I stopped. And then the game was over."

With the score tied at 107-107 after George Hill made the first of two free throws, Smith grabbed the rebound off a would-be go-ahead shot in the paint when Hill missed the second one. With 4.5 seconds remaining, Smith immediately put the ball on the floor and dribbled out beyond the 3-point line.

With 2.2 seconds remaining, James changed position from expecting to receive a pass from Smith out beyond the arc to demonstratively pointing his arm toward the basket and gesturing to Smith to make an offensive move back toward the hoop.

After gesturing to Smith, James made the timeout motion toward the scorer's table. The Cavs indeed had one timeout remaining at the time. With no timeout awarded to Cleveland, Smith made one more dribble toward half court before stopping to pivot and fire a two-handed chest pass to Hill, who was standing in the corner.

Hill caught the pass with 0.5 seconds remaining, and his desperation heave, which was blocked by Draymond Green, would not have counted anyway as it left his hands after the buzzer.

After time expired, Smith, with his shoulders shrugged, appeared to tell James, "I thought we were ahead" in a video replay shown during the ABC broadcast of the game. However, when Smith spoke to reporters afterward, he insisted he knew the score of the game.

"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."

Durant actually had three blocks at the time, single-handedly tying the total that the Cavs had as a team.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said during his postgame media conference that he assumed that Smith thought Cleveland was up by one point. Lue later clarified through a team spokesman that he did not speak to Smith about the sequence after it occurred, instead turning his focus to the ensuing overtime.

Lue would have been eligible to call a timeout from the bench as soon as Smith grabbed the rebound, however it should be noted that the Cavs were playing offense on the opposite end of the court from where Lue was positioned.

Smith said that had he believed the Cavs were ahead, it would have been obvious to everyone because he would have executed the sequence much differently.

"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."

James said that Smith did not address his teammates about the sequence after the game, nor did James feel compelled to approach Smith about it.

"We got to move on," James said. "This game is over and done with. We had opportunities. I would never give up on JR. That's not my M.O. I don't give up on any of my players, any of my teammates, so I don't think that even needs to be said."

When later pressed again about Smith's decision, James said, "I thought we were all aware of what was going on. That's my view. So I don't know what JR was thinking. ... I don't know his state of mind."

Cavs forward Jeff Green expressed confidence that Smith, who scored 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting with six rebounds and two assists Thursday, would be prepared for Sunday.

"JR is a strong man," Green said. "He understands the game. He knows how to bounce back from something like that. So, we don't need to pat him on the back. He knows what to do. So, he'll be ready for Game 2."

The Smith sequence brought to mind other late-game basketball blunders, including when Chris Webber was whistled for a technical foul after calling a timeout that the University of Michigan didn't have in the 1993 NCAA national championship game against the University of North Carolina; Magic Johnson dribbling out the clock in regulation in Game 2 of the 1984 Finals, when the Los Angeles Lakers were forced into a tough final shot and then lost in overtime to the Boston Celtics; and when the Dallas Mavericks' Derek Harper dribbled out the clock at half court during a tied game in the 1984 Western Conference semifinals against the Lakers, a game the Mavs would go on to lose in OT.

Between the Smith sequence, the missed free throw by Hill and several officiating calls that the Cavs believed were wrong and went against them, Cleveland had plenty to digest following Game 1.

"We've got a pretty well-rounded group," Smith said. "Guys aren't really too high when we win, too low when we lose. It'll be interesting to see how we rebound from this."

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