Cleveland (92.3 the Fan) – It is apparent to everybody when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have big games offensively, the Cavaliers are more than likely going to win.
When that happens, LeBron James’ consistency alone will be enough to carry the Wine and Gold to a victory on a given night 9 times out of 10.
But what happens when LeBron is not the focal point on the defensive end, either?
J.R. Smith has been the primary defender for the Cavaliers through two games against the Indiana Pacers, and James not guarding the opposition’s best player can be seen as a theme on defense over the course of the year.
Smith says LeBron being in the background on the defensive side is beneficial.
“It really helps us,” Smith said, also admitting the move allows James to rest to a degree on defense. “When you look at him like an Ed Reed type of guy, he does a great job with that. He gets interceptions on the weak sides, he gets blocks.”
J.R. added that just because LeBron does not guard the opposition’s best scorer does not mean he is not the best defender on the floor.
“Obviously, he’s one of the better – I think him, Kawhi and probably Tony Allen are the best on-ball defenders in the league,” Smith added. “His athletic ability, how smart he is on the defensive end, his talent alone on the weak-side is only going to increase our chances.”
What makes LeBron’s shift over a benefit for J.R. is that the shooting guard likes to be the man on defense, despite being known for his 3-point shooting prowess.
“I look at that as a challenge within myself because for one, their team can’t win without that guy, obviously,” he added. “For two, to challenge myself personally. My talent. At the end of the day, it’s my talent against your talent. Who’s going to be disciplined enough to come out with the positive outcome.”
That plan was nearly railroaded on Monday when Smith sustained a hamstring injury that kept him out of the rest of the contest.
The Cavaliers had a diamond in the rough in Iman Shumpert, who did not play in the first six quarters of the series, but brought his defensive acumen to the table, filling in for Smith on all-star forward Paul George. Shumpert held George to 4-of-11 shooting in the second half.
“He did a hell of a job,” Smith said. “Came in, played great defense, forced a couple of turnovers, hit two big shots for us.
“So, he stayed professional through the whole process, which is all you can ask. Because it is a tough task to grasp when you’re starting at one point during the season when I was hurt, playing well, and then not play game one, and not play the first half, then go out there and perform. You’ve got to take your hat off to him.”
Smith is expected to play on Thursday in Indiana, and head coach Tyronn Lue says Shump may have played himself into the Cavaliers’ plans for Game 3, though not in the starting lineup.
“He did play great for us, and with J.R. going down, it’s been our mentality of ‘next man up,’” Lue said. “Shump has been playing all year, it was just one game where he didn’t play. In a big game like the other night, he was ready to play, ready to go, in a big playoff game. We know we can count on Shump to be ready, and know he can give us a lift.”