CLEVELAND, Ohio — J.R. Smith has tired legs. Missing an entire training camp will do that to a player.
But he found it in him to bury three crucial 3-pointers in the Cavs’ 105-99 win over the Orlando Magic, including a dagger with 31.5 seconds left that helped to lift his team to its 15th consecutive win over Orlando.
Smith, who signed a four-year, $57 million deal after a drawn-out negotiation, entered play shooting just 28.6 percent (6-of-21) through two games. But he’s their sharpest of sharpshooters from deep, one of the game’s best over the last two seasons, and was there Saturday night for the Cavs.
Even after they didn’t think they’d need him in this one.
What was an 18-point advantage was whittled down to just three points when LeBron James found Smith in the corner for a 3-pointer with 3:33 left. The Magic answered with a trey of its own, and Smith connected again from deep with 2:46 to play for a 94-88 advantage.
The Cavs never could quite shake the Magic (0-3), who like them were playing for the second night in a row.
Smith’s 16 points were a season high (yes, it’s early). His two free throws with 18.7 seconds to go put the Cavs up by eight.
James led all scorers with 23 points to go with nine assists and six rebounds. It was the first time this season he was the Cavs’ top scorer.
Kyrie Irving added 20 points and four rebounds. Kevin Love scored 19 points and grabbed five rebounds.
The Cavs (3-0) are struggling to shoot as a team, shooting 40.9 percent against the Magic. In Smith’s case, coach Tyronn Lue believes “it is conditioning.”
“One thing he’s doing, he’s playing to exhaustion,” Lue said. “He’s giving everything he’s got, he’s diving on the floor for loose balls, he’s in passing lanes, he’s blowing up screens. He’s playing hard. If there’s any way you want to get in shape, you’ve got to play hard and that’s what he’s been doing. We know he’s going to make shots.”
Cleveland led by as many as 22. Overall, the Cavs are rolling to start the year. Add in the long winning streak over Orlando, and it was easy to see how a false sense of security could develop.
Furthermore, the Cavs’ game ops folks put the Indians’ World Series game on the video monitors at all points during the night, eliciting more cheers from the crowd and further grabbing the players’ attention.
The result was Orlando sneaking back into the game. Evan Fournier led the Magic with 22 points. He posted seven points in the final frame. D.J. Augustin scored 10 of his 13 off the bench in the fourth.
The Cavs’ Smith actually apologized to the crowd after the game for the bad (team) fourth quarter, and of course offered the Indians’ “rally together” battle cry as he left the court and the Indians’ game found its way back to the Humungotron.
Irving shot 7-of-18 from the field, Love was 6-of-17, and James was 7-of-16.
“We’re playing pretty good offensively, but I’m most happy about our defense,” Lue said. “Defensively we are playing hard, we’re competing. We’re doing the right coverages. Offensively we’ve got a lot of pieces and we’re going to score the basketball. Defensively is what I’m most proud of right now and hopefully we can continue to keep it going.”
Cavs rookie point guard Kay Felder made his NBA debut, scoring two points in five minutes. He notched an assist to Love on a 3-pointer and scored his first points on a buzzer-beating layup to end the first quarter.