INDIANAPOLIS — Among the first questions asked of Cavaliers coach Ty Lue in advance of Thursday night’s NBA playoff game against the Pacers was a simple one: Will J.R. Smith start tonight?
And Lue gave a simple answer: “Yes.”
Smith had lasted only 18 minutes of Monday’s Game 2 in this first-round series before leaving for good with a hamstring issue. He was only 1 of 3 from the field in that game and scored three points, well off his season average of 8.6 points per game. In his absence, the Pacers rallied from 18 points down at the start of the fourth quarter to trail by as few as four points with 19 seconds left. Perimeter players Paul George, Lance Stephenson and Jeff Teague combined for 19 of Indiana’s 33 fourth-quarter points.
This is where Lue sees Smith potentially making a difference as the Cavs, despite their somewhat uninspiring start in this series, push for a 3-0 lead.
“Defensively, just challenge Paul George, make his offensive life miserable, just make his offensive life hard and compete,” Lue said. “He’s going to make some shots — and some tough shots, at that. But just make him work. For everything he gets, no easy baskets, not falling asleep and losing him in transition and just bringing that defensive intensity and tenacity that he brought in Game 1.”
Smith will be appearing in his 93rd career playoff game. He has been part of Cavaliers teams that reached the past two NBA Finals and won the championship in 2016. Lue said he had not yet been informed whether Smith will have any minutes restriction for this game.