INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — A day after LeBron James disappeared in the second half of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 111-108 Game 3 loss to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, J.R. Smith said the Cavs need their star to be more aggressive than he showed Sunday.
“He’s got to be aggressive, get downhill, play like he’s been playing, play confident,” said Smith after practice Monday. “That’s what I always think, when people of his stature or people like him, you’ve got to play confident the whole night and play aggressive. It’s the Eastern Conference finals. It’s not enough for him. For what he does, what he brings, it’s not enough. He knows that. We know that. Just expect him to be better in Game 4.”
In the final 16:31 of Game 3, James had zero points on 0-for-4 shooting (0-for-2 from 3) with two turnovers, one rebound and one assist. He finished with 11 points, six rebounds, six assists and six turnovers.
Smith was asked how James processes a bad game, as rare as they might be.
“I think when he goes home, he’ll watch the game again,” Smith said. “He’ll take it hard that night. And then the next day he’ll wake up and be fine with it. Well, not be fine with it, but accept it more. That’s all you can ask. You take it hard when you go home, but then the next day, you wake up and it’s a new day.”
Is James, coming into Sunday having scored 30 points or more in eight straight playoff games to tie Michael Jordan for the modern playoff record for such a streak, suddenly suffering from a crisis in confidence?
“I don’t know,” Smith said. “I mean, I never have that problem. I’ve been confident every time I’ve stepped on the court, whether I’m falling out of bounds or shooting a free throw, confidence is something I never lack. That’s my job as his teammate and as his friend is making sure he stays confident in what he does, and you know, just trying to get him out of it.”
James did not speak to reporters Monday and was not on the court when the doors opened for reporters to observe the tail end of Cavs practice. Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said James was in “good spirits” when they spoke.
Lue defended James when he was asked how much blame should be pointed at James for the Cavs blowing a 21-point second half lead to the Celtics.
“No blame,” Lue said. “We’re all to blame. We lost; it happens. For a guy who played great for five straight months, he’s got to have a bad game sooner or later. He’s human. He didn’t shoot the ball well. It wasn’t his ordinary game. But Kevin (Love) and Kyrie (Irving) had it going early and they played well, so it kind of got him out of rhythm a little bit in that first half. That’s no excuse. Like I said, they played well, but we’ve just got to play better, be more physical.”
Including Sunday, James now has 10 games in his career with 15 points or less in a postseason loss. He’s responded in the next game with mixed results, going 4-5 with averages of 24.8 points on 41.8 percent shooting, 8.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists.
After the game, James suggested that the loss could be a good thing for the Cavs because, “I feel some adversity is all part of the postseason. I feel like you have to have some type of adversity in order to be successful.”
Is Lue on board with James’ framing off the loss?
“I would rather have adversity and win,” Lue said with a laugh. “But like I said, we won 10 in a row, we lost a game and we’ve got a chance to come back and work on some things that we’re definitely going to correct. See what happens (Wednesday).
“I mean, it’s natural. You win 10 in a row and you’re feeling good. Same thing happened last year versus Toronto. We’ve got to be better, but there’s nothing wrong with being confident and feeling good. We wouldn’t be in this position if we weren’t confident. We’ve just got to get back to, like I said, being physical, bringing the physicality and having a defensive mindset. I think that’s where it hurt us the most.”
Smith suggested there is something else that hurt the Cavs against the guys in green on Avery Bradley’s game-winning shot.
“It really shocks me because when he shot it, it could have just went right in and gave us enough time to call timeout and run another play, but the way it danced around, it was just luck of the Irish,” Smith said.