After losing two straight games in Toronto, the Cleveland Cavaliers set the tone defensively early in game five. The defensive stand came from an unlikely source, JR Smith, their three point specialist. He had a poor defensive showing in game four, as in he no showed the whole game. Play after play, the Raptors continually targeted him as the weak link of the Cavs defense. In game five, he came with a completely different mindset.
In a play from game four, Kyle Lowry is coming off a high pick-and-roll with a full head of steam. Smith’s man is on the wing but he should have positioned himself at the free throw line elbow to take away the driving lane. Instead he just jabs at Lowry as he is coming down the lane. Lowry gets to the rim with little resistance for two points.
In game five, Smith finds himself in the same position this time with DeMar DeRozan driving from the top of the key. Smith is already loaded up on the free throw line elbow to stop the drive and run out to his man if DeRozan passes to the wing. DeRozan settles for a jumper and misses.
In another play from game four, the Raptors run a pick-and-roll with Lowry and DeMarre Carroll, to force Smith to switch onto Lowry. On this critical possession late in the game, Lowry blows right by Smith who hardly puts up a fight for an easy lay up that seals the victory for Toronto.
Two nights later, Smith’s defensive mentality is completely different. When DeRozan comes off of a screen, Smith is all over him. He physically stands up to DeRozan bumping him off the spot as DeRozan tries to bully his way to the rim. Instead he is forced into a tough shot, and later loses his composure in the form of a technical foul.
Smith was completely engaged on the defensive end in game five. Below are two examples of his defensive awareness from the weak side that helped the Cavs take a 3-2 series lead. In the first clip, Lowry has the ball as the shot clock is winding down. He attempts to spin right into a jump shot, Smith reads the play, leaves his man in the corner and surprises Lowry forcing a shot clock violation. In the second example, as Cory Joseph comes off a pick-and-pop play, he tries hitting the big who is popping to the three point line. Smith comes running in from the weak side wing for the steal and a fast break dunk.
In game four the Raptors’ backcourt combined for 67 points in their win, but with the renewed defensive tone set but Smith, they were held to 27 points in game five. The Cavs made many adjustments to blow out the Raptors, they improved their defensive rebounding, Kyrie and Love found their shooting stroke. However, the most notably change was the defensive transformation that JR Smith went through going from being the weakest link to the backbone.