Published On: Sun, Jun 3rd, 2018

Cavaliers have plenty to fix before Game 2 of NBA Finals

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OAKLAND, Calif. – J.R. Smith‘s stunning gaffe will likely remain the focal point of a wild game to open the 2018 NBA Finals. But LeBron James is willing to forgive and forget, acknowledging that Smith’s mistake wasn’t the only thing wrong with Cleveland‘s performance Thursday night.

“I expect us to come and play with the same grit we had in Game 1,” James told reporters prior to Saturday’s practice. “We made a lot of mistakes in Game 1. I expect us to be better … It’s a new day. For me, I woke up feeling excited about the opportunity for us to get better today. Excited about the opportunity that presents itself tomorrow.”

After an off day to decompress and get over their Game 1 loss to the Golden State Warriors, the Cavaliers arrived at practice Saturday afternoon ready to turn the page.

“The game is over,” Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue said. “There’s nothing you can do about it. We’ve got to move on, move forward.”

More than anything, everyone was ready to move on from talking about Smith’s Game 1 blunder, when he forgot the score during the final possession of regulation.

“He probably took that loss as hard as anybody on the team,” James said. “But one thing about J.R., he has an uncanny ability to bounce back … I’ve known J.R. since he was in high school. It’s not like he’s a new teammate of mine or someone I just met. J.R. knows what I expect out of him. He expects things out of me. And we just try to go get it done.”

Smith said he spent most of his off day getting away from basketball, watching a lot of golf on television.

He also received a lot of encouragement from teammates, including Kyle Korver, who spent part of the off day hanging out with Smith.

Cleveland needs to recover from Smith’s misplay to end the game and the controversial reversal of Kevin Durant’s charge on James in the final seconds. Going forward, the Cavaliers believe they can play better overall on Sunday, and not leave it to the final possession.

“To beat Golden State I think more is required from everyone,” Cavaliers forward Kevin Love said.

Love wants to be more aggressive after finishing Game 1 with 21 points and 13 rebounds. He was disappointed with his 1-for-8 performance from beyond the arc.

“Very uncharacteristic for me,” Love said. “But those shots are there.”

As a team, the Cavs didn’t sink many three-point attempts, going just 10-for-37. But the Cavaliers are trying to focus on the positives – specifically, that they’ll continue to generate good chances from deep, and eventually, those looks will start to fall.

Smith understands the spotlight is on him and his teammates. They have to take advantage of the offensive opportunities James creates for them.

“It’s a lot of pressure just playing on this team,” Smith said. “It’s a gift and a curse. You play on this team, and you’re playing with the best player in the world and you get to witness some great historic things and be a part of it. On the other side, if you don’t help that person win, they’re looking at you too.”

James has a history of putting up huge production after a loss in the playoffs. However, it’ll be tough for him to be nearly flawless again and top Game 1, when the 14-time All-Star finished with 51 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists.

“So that means he has to score 60, right?” Lue said, laughing. “Well, got to score 60 tomorrow, then, I guess.”

Whether it’s another historic performance from James, or his teammates stepping up, Cleveland knows a 2-0 deficit heading back home will be a near death knell against this Warriors team.

The Cavs lost the first two games at Oracle Arena in last year’s Finals by a combined 41 points and then dropped the series in five games. James didn’t seem particularly worried Saturday, though, even if the task of playing another great game on the road to keep this series from slipping away feels like a lot of pressure.

“This is just basketball,” James said. “This is not adversity. Not with the things I’ve been through in my life. This is fun.”

As for the eye injury he suffered after getting poked by Draymond Green in Game 1, James says he’s feeling better after taking medication, along with eye drops and antibiotics.

Asked if he basically scored 51 points in Game 1 with one blurry eye, James quipped: “No, I had some points before that already.”

We’ll see in Game 2 if Cleveland’s relaxed and confident mood at practice on Saturday translates to a road victory.

Alex Wong is an NBA freelance writer whose work has appeared in GQ, The New Yorker, Vice Sports, and Complex, among other publications.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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