With 9:59 left in the fourth quarter, J.R. Smith drained his eighth three of the game, extending the Cavaliers lead to 18.
“Its kind of hard when I was hitting the shots that I was hitting to pass the ball” Smith said after the game.
After a tightly contested first half which had eight lead changes and was tied 7 times– including at the buzzer—Smith’s second half performance was what blew the game wide open for the Cavs.
Smith finished the game with 28 points, eight of which were three pointers–the NBA single game playoff record is nine. “When [Smith] gets hot, he gets smoking hot” said Cavaliers Coach David Blatt.
Holding an 18 point lead with 9:59 left, it was LeBron’s turn to take over the Cavs offence. He scored 9 of his team’s final 12 points and led all scorers with 31 points.
The Cavaliers offense stalled towards the end of the game, allowing for Hawks to crawl back into the game. “It starts with me… I played way too much isolation basketball.” James said. The Hawks cut the lead to four with 57 seconds left, but were unable to pull any closer and the Cavs won 97-89.
However, Game 1 was not the only thing Hawks lost on Wednesday night. DeMarre Carroll had to be helped off the court after suffering a left knee injury. Carroll was unable to put any weight on his left leg as he left the court. He will undergo an MRI on Thursday. A MRI on Thursday revealed no structural damage and he is questionable for Game 2 on Friday.
Hawks point guard Jeff Teague said that “DeMarre has been our glue guy all year and our best player in the past couple series. Hopefully he will get better soon.”
With the win in Game 1, the Cavs took home court advantage in the series. LeBron came back to Cleveland this year with the knowledge that his supporting cast would lack playoff experience. He is the only starter to have previously reached the conference finals.
Many people questioned the the midseason acquisition of J.R. Smith from the New York Knicks. Questions about his maturity and behavior arose again earlier this post-season when he was suspended for two games for elbowing Jae Crowder of the Boston Celtics in the head. However, Smith’s performance in Game 1 squashed doubts about his value to this Cavaliers roster.
You hear all the time about teams having a strong veteran presence in the locker room. In Miami there was Pat Riley who was the puppet master behind every major Heat decision and a veteran group of players around LeBron. In Cleveland, it’s LeBron’s team. He is the not only the team’s best player, but its veteran leader (and the coach and GM according to some reports).
James was confident from the start that Smith would be a positive addition to the team
“Get him here and I’ll take care of it,” he said.
Especially with Kyrie Irving playing hurt–he only played 27 minutes on Wednesday–the Cavs will go as far as LeBron takes them. With a road victory in Game 1, LeBron took a big step towards reaching his 5th straight NBA Finals and toward bringing a long awaited title to Cleveland in his home state of Ohio.