The Cleveland Cavaliers still were tied with the Golden State Warriors following J.R. Smith’s costly brain cramp in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. But they might as well have been down 30.
Such was the negativity emanating from the Cavs’ bench — particularly LeBron James — after Smith, thinking Cleveland was ahead by one, dribbled out the clock in a tie game at the end of regulation Thursday night.
Here’s a full, uncut video of James and Smith on the bench after Smith’s famous blunder.
It’s pretty fascinating footage; at around the 1:35 mark, we see James ask head coach Tyronn Lue if the Cavs had a timeout to use, and Lue’s response (they did) sends LeBron off the deep end.
But this clip also is pretty concerning if you’re a Cavs fan. Imagine you’re Smith and just committed a brutal mental mistake at the worst possible time. You know what you did wrong and feel awful. You’re about to feel a whole lot more awful, though, because you have to sit next to the man you let down, who won’t say a word to you and clearly is in no mood for forgiveness.
Remember: Cleveland is tied with Golden State at this point and still has a great opportunity to steal Game 1 on the road. But its body language is unmistakably negative, as James doesn’t even address the team or make any effort to rally his teammates for overtime.
A few Cavs players try valiantly; Jose Calderon and Kyle Korver offer some enthusiastic claps. By and large, though, Cleveland looked like a club whose fate already was sealed, which may explain why the Cavs were outscored 17-7 in overtime en route to a 124-114 loss.
James had every right to be frustrated, of course. He played the game of his life and expected his teammates to not screw up, at the very least. But there’s a fine line between holding players to a high standard and undercutting their confidence, which appears to have happened here. The bar is sky-high for James, too, and we should expect better leadership out of him in crucial situations.
The Cavs face an 0-2 series hole after dropping Game 2 on Sunday night, so they’ll need to dig deep to climb back against the mighty Warriors. More importantly, they’ll need confidence, which could start with a little support from their best player.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images